Thursday 7 August 1997
Workers' Compensation Reform Act, 1996, Bill 99, Mrs Witmer /
Loi de 1996 portant réforme de la Loi sur les accidents du travail,
projet de loi 99, Mme Witmer
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
Mr Tom Kukovica
Ms Pearl MacKay
Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada Local 39
Mr Geoff Turner
Industrial Wood and Allied Workers of Canada Local 2693
Mr Joe Hanlon
Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups
Mr Steve Mantis
Mr Karl Crevar
Amalgamated Transit Union
Mr Dan Campbell
United Steelworkers of America Local 1040
Mr Rob Smith
Thunder Bay District Hospitality Association
Mr Mike Meady
Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group
Mr Eugene Lefrançois
Mr Ross Singleton
Disabled Workers' Complex Case Network
Mr Darrell Sanderson
Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group
Mrs Muriel Poster
Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce
Mr Paul Duncan
Mrs Rebecca Johnson
Service Employees International Union Local 268
Mr Jack Drewes
Ms Bonnie Cameron
Northwestern Ontario Building and Construction Trades Council
Mr Steve Silversides
Thunder Bay and District Labour Council
Mr Paul Pugh
Ms Judith Mongrain
United Steelworkers of America, Northwestern Ontario Area Council
Mr Moses Sheppard
Ms Marianna Foster
Employers' Advocacy Council, Northwestern Chapter
Mr Carmer Sweica
Ontario Public Service Employees' Union
Ms Pat Shearer
Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group
Mr Art Bourré
Mr Ed Gibbins
Mr Ernest Craik
FMB Labour Adjustment Services
Mr Francis Bell
Ontario Chiropractic Association
Dr William McCallum
STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT
Chair / Présidente
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East / -Est L)
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre / -Centre ND)
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North / -Nord PC)
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale ND)
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North / -Nord L)
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland PC)
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent L)
Mr W. Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew PC)
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls PC)
Mr John R. O'Toole (Durham East / -Est PC)
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North / -Nord PC)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur L)
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River ND)
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre L)
Mr Gary R. Stewart (Peterborough PC)
Clerk / Greffière
Ms Donna Bryce
Staff / Personnel
Mr Ray McLellan, research officer,
Legislative Research Service
STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMITÉ PERMANENT DU RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT DÉVELOPPEMENT RESSOURCES
Thursday 7 August 1997 Jeudi 7 août 1997
The committee met at 0902 in the Valhalla Inn, Thunder Bay.
WORKERS' COMPENSATION REFORM ACT, 1996 LOI DE 1996 PORTANT RÉFORME DE LA LOI SUR LES ACCIDENTS DU TRAVAIL
Consideration of Bill 99, An Act to secure the financial stability of the compensation system for injured workers, to promote the prevention of injury and disease in Ontario workplaces and to revise the Workers' Compensation Act and make related amendments to other Acts / Projet de loi 99, Loi assurant la stabilité financière du régime d'indemnisation des travailleurs blessés, favorisant la prévention des lésions et des maladies dans les lieux de travail en Ontario et révisant la Loi sur les accidents du travail et apportant des modifications connexes à d'autres lois.
UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION
The Chair (Mrs Brenda Elliott): Good morning, everyone. We welcome our first presenters this morning to the standing committee on resources development. We are very pleased to be here in Thunder Bay and look forward to an interesting day of advice on Bill 99. Please introduce yourselves for Hansard. You have 20 minutes in which to make your presentation; you may or may not allow time for questions.
Mr Tom Kukovica: Good morning. My name is Tom Kukovica. I'm the Canadian director of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. I have with me Pearl MacKay, who is the executive assistant to the president of UFCWI Local 1000A, and Dave Killham, who is director of education of UFCWI Local 175633.
Members, I'm going to make a presentation, but I'm not going to read the whole brief. I want to point out some of the major issues of our presentation.
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union work mainly in retail food stores, food processing plants, meat packing, poultry, restaurants, hotels, breweries, nursing homes and school boards. We have 85,000 members who live throughout the province. Half our members are women and part-time people and immigrants to Canada.
Most of our workplaces are small. Even though we have multinational corporations, workplaces have less than 200 and in most instances less than 20 workers.
Our most common injuries are repetitive strain injuries. Many people ask: "How can you be injured in a grocery store? It's clean, bright and usually air-conditioned." What they do not see is how hard the work is. During an eight-hour shift, between 2,000 and 16,000 pounds of goods pass through each open cashier station. A person decorating cakes in the bakery will make thousands of twists and turns of the trunk, shoulders and wrists, often with a pinch grip at the same time. Our plants, particularly the meat packing and poultry processing plants, are among the most dangerous in Ontario.
Bill 99 will devastate us. We support our sisters and brothers from the Ontario Federation of Labour and other unions who have spoken about the legal implications of Bill 99. However, in our presentation we want to present some of the practical implications and results this legislation will have on our members.
Our presentation is in six points: self-reporting; the exclusion of chronic stress; modified work and reinstatement; health care; the right to appeal; and administrative chaos.
Self-reporting: Under Bill 99, a worker is required to fill out a specific form to initiate workers' compensation. This change opens up the possibility of a whole new level of intimidation of our workers. This problem is compounded by the nature of the injuries our members experience. Repetitive strain injuries emerge gradually over time. Many do not want to ask their employer for something until they can't stand it any longer. Unfortunately, with RSIs, at that point their injury is sometimes too severe to fully heal.
We are concerned that the process of making a claim before the WCB for entitlement for RSIs may go way beyond the six-month time limit envisioned in Bill 99. Our members who have RSIs often have the experience of their doctor saying, "It looks like this or that RSI." It isn't until later that this is confirmed via diagnostic testing. In addition, numerous other members do not make the connection of their work being the cause of the RSI they are experiencing. The six-month time limit for making a claim before the WCB contradicts the disablement provisions of the act.
Let me talk to you about coverage and the exclusion of chronic stress. A number of our members work in highly stressful workplaces, particularly those who work in nursing homes. In the homes, our members take care of people who are dying slowly, often in pain and confusion. In these workplaces, the patients do not get better; most often, they die in the home. This produces a great deal of chronic emotional and often physical stress.
In the retail environment, some of our members have been stalked by customers and, in some cases, ex-co-workers. These injuries are caused by the work; they should be covered by workers' compensation. It is less frequent that we experience acute stress from a specific psychotraumatic incident. However, it does occur in our members' workplaces when an armed robbery occurs, either at the store or on the way to making a cash deposit, and in incidents of attempts to stop shoplifters. We will be left with no alternative but to sue our employers if these serious work-related conditions are not covered under workers' compensation.
Modified work and reinstatement: As a union, we have worked to establish practical modified work procedures with many of our employers. Much of this is based on the current workers' compensation provisions that require an employer to provide sustainable modified work that has been approved by the worker's treating physician. Under Bill 99, the WCB is given the exclusive right to decide if a modified job is appropriate. Sections 40 and 41 of the bill set out the obligations of both the worker and the employer. The worker gives information to the WCB and the employer. The employer offers the job, and the WCB determines if it is appropriate. The worker's treating physician has been excluded from the process.
We feel very strongly that our members should have the right to decide about their own lives. Moreover, the doctors are the people who actually see our injured workers and know their capabilities. The doctor or health care practitioner should give the authorization for our injured members to return to work, not some faceless bureaucrat who has never examined them. How can anyone who has not seen the worker and who does not actually know the job decide if a worker can do it?
Bill 99 fundamentally changes the nature of health care in the province. Subsections 33(1)and (2)and section 34 of Bill 99 give the WCB the authority to determine an injured worker's medical treatment. This will be the introduction of the idea of managed care in Ontario. Under managed care systems, a bureaucrat who does not know and who has never examined the worker will make decisions about what medical treatment the worker should receive, not the worker's treating health care practitioner. This is intensified because section 34 of the bill also states that a worker's benefits are terminated if the worker refuses to follow the WCB's health care dictates.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is the largest private sector union in North America and is an international union with 1.4 million members in Canada and the US. Our union has a great deal of experience with managed care, and our findings regarding the US experience are very frightening. In the US, our experience is that health care managers become gatekeepers, more interested in saving their organization money than in returning a worker to health. It's not a radical observation. In appendices A, B and C of our presentation, you will see three very interesting articles which talk about managed health care and the problems it is generating, the concerns of the public and the legislative initiatives to limit managed care in the US in over 30 states. In Canada our public health system is driven by a desire to provide for the health of our population, not by profits.
Further, we also object to sections 36 and 37, which require both the automatic release of health care records and the automatic obligation that a worker submit to a medical exam requested by the employer. We feel very strongly that our members and all workers must be allowed the dignity of their privacy. We agree that medical information is important to determine how a worker returns to work. However, it's our experience that the present Workers' Compensation legislation and the Ontario Human Rights Code fully protect us right now.
The right to appeal: Bill 99 erodes our democratic right to appeal in at least three ways: by requiring written reasons for an appeal; by limiting the independence of the WCAT and by eliminating effective tripartism; and by introducing time limits on the right to appeal, particularly the 30-day limit for appeals of either return-to-work decisions or LMRPs.
Subsection 114(2) requires a worker to submit written reasons with a notice of objection. This section discriminates against workers who have literacy problems. Remember, UFCW has a lot of immigrant workers in its ranks.
The restriction of the independence of the WCAT and the effective elimination of tripartism also makes a mockery of the idea of an independent review of the decisions of the WCB. How can we trust in the fairness of a final appeal carried out by the same people who made the decision in the first place, particularly if they are bound to uphold WCB policy? Having a worker member on the panel of WCAT would give us greater faith that the panel will listen and understand what happened.
This brings up a number of disturbing changes in how the government is administering the workers' compensation system. This is the introduction of direct political interference in the staffing of both the board of directors of the Workers' Compensation Board and WCAT. For the first time in the province of Ontario, this government has begun to pick and choose who they will allow to be labour's representatives on both the board of directors and on WCAT. UFCW has the distinction of being the only union in Ontario that has been thrown off both the board of directors of the WCB and WCAT. This disregard for democracy is very disturbing and brings into question the legitimacy of the system.
The last point: administrative chaos. One of the less discussed side-effects of Bill 99 will be the need for front-line adjudicators to adjust to a completely new set of rules brought about by the rewriting of the Workers' Compensation Act. We need to be cognizant that at the same time the WCB itself is being dramatically reorganized. Changing both the act and the board at the same time raises the probability of encountering administrative chaos. This occurred in Nova Scotia when they changed the workers' compensation system and in Ontario with the dismantling of the public administration of the family benefits plan.
In Ontario, close to 500,000 accidents are reported to the WCB each year and need to be processed for entitlement etc. Given these large numbers, we fear administrative chaos will further deter our members from making a claim for benefits once the word is out about further delays. For our members who have private insurance plans, they will be more inclined to make application for benefits under such plans, as opposed to the WCB. This in turn will go further to increase the non-reporting of compensable injuries.
This is but a very brief look at the practical damage Bill 99 will inflict on working people in the province of Ontario, including on our own members. For these reasons and those reviewed by our sisters and brothers from the OFL and other unions, we urge you to reject Bill 99.
Thank you for the opportunity to present our views.
The Chair: You've left us with about eight minutes for questions, so that's just over two minutes per caucus. We'll begin with the government caucus this morning.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): Thank you very much, Tom, for your presentation this morning. You've given us a fairly detailed feeling of what you feel the proposed legislation is all about. I have some reservations with respect to part IV, specifically sections 32, 33, 34, 35. This is the section dealing with health care.
I think, quite bluntly, that much of what you've suggested here is completely misleading. If you were to refer to the current act, and I refer you to section 24 through to section 50, also dealing with health care, you would find that really it's just a repetition. I'm going to specifically read through for the record a couple of parts which -- I think it is important for those who may be listening today to understand that the current act does not in any respect diminish the entitlements to health care that an injured worker or any other worker is entitled to. So to read into the record from your presentation I feel is a little bit slanted. Perhaps in your response you could tell me why you've taken some exception with that.
Just for example, I'm looking at subsection 33(6) of the proposed legislation: "No health care practitioner shall request a worker to pay for health care or any related service provided under the insurance plan." This is pretty clear.
If you go down to subsection 34(2): "If the worker fails to comply with subsection (1), the board may reduce or suspend payments to the worker under the insurance plan while the noncompliance continues." I'd ask you to refer to section 37 of the current act. That's precisely the same language.
So I'm not in disagreement. You've made a good presentation, Tom, but I don't think it's correct to project that the current legislation diminishes the entitlements to health care. I'd like your response to that.
Mr Kukovica: I'll ask Pearl to respond, because we're talking about managed care, we're not talking about -- it's quite a bit of a difference.
Ms Pearl MacKay: In our reading of Bill 99 in its current form, in the section that calls for the board to deem it to be appropriate and sufficient etc and to ask if it's cost-effective, tying in those components, my understanding is that did not exist in the current Workers' Compensation Act. When you tie that in with the removal, or the appearance of the removal of the doctor's recommendations because now the decision is left solely with the compensation board, that leads to no difference than our experience has been within the managed care system within the US.
Mr O'Toole: I guess the section we're trying to refer to here is subsection (6) of the current act. I'd refer you to subsection 50(6), which deals with health care in the current act. I'll read it for the record: "All questions as to the necessity, character and sufficiency of any health care furnished or to be furnished and as to payment for health care shall be determined by the board." That's the current act. So there is a managed delivery of the health care service in the current act. I 'm not in dispute. I just want you to understand that there is nothing prescriptive or diminishing the entitlements to health care in the proposed legislation.
The Chair: Excuse me, we must move now to the Liberal caucus.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): Good morning. Thank you for coming and thank you for your presentation. You have put a fair amount of work into this.
I would like to give you a chance, because I know you were rushed in your presentation, to elaborate somewhat on an aspect you identified that I think is absolutely crucial and that I think is different, and that is the right-to-appeal section. It has been identified by a number of people that one of the changes between the existing system and the system we will have is that the independence of appeal mechanisms has gone -- that's gone with WCAT -- and I might add also, as I'm sure you're aware, the independence of the Occupational Disease Panel, which is fundamentally important to workplace health. So if you would like to elaborate on any section of that, then I would like to provide that opportunity for you.
Ms MacKay: Attached to the right of appeal is also some of the stuff we're now concerned we're going to be seeing, with the government selecting who will or will not go forward as representatives of labour. When recommendations have been passed, for example, for a recent round of reappointments at the WCAT there was at least one labour representative who was approved by the Minister of Labour's office and subsequently denied when it went to either the Premier's office or cabinet. This particular member, the labour side's person -- Sarah Shartal is her name -- was quite an advocate and still is quite an advocate for injured workers and she did her job in that vein at the WCAT. Certainly the OFL supported her in her reappointment, and the government saw fit not to do that.
Our concern with that is that it creates a chill effect, for example, at the WCAT. If people are going to truly do their job, then they need to be free to do their job. This has clearly sent a message to the other WCAT people that if they do their job in a manner they see as appropriate, that may not be in line with the government's agenda, then they are not going to get reappointed.
In terms of the appeal process, that's a little bit more of an extrapolation beyond the specific section.
In particular as well, for appeals where workers must now give written reasons for their appeal, that in and of itself will cause an awful lot of workers to not do an appeal.
There are a lot of workers in this province who do not have representatives to go to for WCB appeal assistance. Even within our own membership, some of our smaller locals don't have the expertise to deal with workers' compensation appeals. It's quite a bureaucratic process. The larger locals within the UFCW are fine, because we have people who work within the local who can do those appeals on our members' behalf. We have three large locals within Ontario and about 65 small locals, so you can imagine who is going to get the representation. Our members within our larger locals will, but certainly in the smaller locals a lot of the members will be frustrated from filing an appeal.
If they're fortunate enough to have sick benefits, weekly I or LTD benefit plans, instead of doing a written appeal with the Workers' Compensation Board, they will have their doctor complete sick benefit forms and will make applications under those insurance programs.
Mr Patten: Which may be what the government wants.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Thanks Tom, Pearl and Dave. We appreciate your presentation.
I want to return to the issue raised by the government members in terms of managed care and I want to say very directly to the government that the people who are here today don't feel you have any more credibility on health care than you do on the rights of injured workers. I think the delegation here has every right to question where you're going in terms of managed care and what this means for people, especially when we look at your privatization agenda. This whole bill, Bill 99, is about taking away the rights that injured workers have. You can slice it any way you want; that's the reality.
I would like to give Pearl and Tom and Dave another opportunity to talk about the experience in the States. I had a chance to glance at some of these articles and it's quite frightening what the whole concept of managed care might mean, and I'd like you to maybe expand on what you think could be the scenario we're facing here in Ontario.
Ms MacKay: I'd also like to point out that in our reading of Bill 99, in my understanding, subsection 33(2) of Bill 99 -- and I'll read it: "The board may provide a special surgical operation or special medical treatment for a worker if, in the opinion of the board, doing so is the only means of avoiding substantial payments under the insurance plan. The cost of the operation or treatment may be paid from the insurance fund or by the schedule 2 employer, as is appropriate." For us, that is managed care.
In terms of the articles at the back, I actually have another one that unfortunately, when we produced the document, we didn't get to submit, but I do have a few extra copies with me. It's from the Wall Street Journal dated Friday, May 30, 1997, and it's a story regarding a fellow named Marc Gardner who headed up three different HMOs working for Columbia in the US. In this article he talks about the different things he was required and requested and actually agreed to do. Part of his statement is that he agrees that he committed felonies every day, and that's a quote from him.
This is the opposite side of where it would be in some ways in terms of Bill 99, but I think it's important, if you're going to operate a health care facility, that lead directors within those health care facilities will feel obligated in some way to do it the quickest, cheapest way, and they will buy into doing it that way for fear of the compensation board, for example, not having been listed as a potential delivery organization.
In appendix A there is an article from the New York Times --
The Chair: Excuse me. I'm sorry to interrupt. Can you just wrap it up.
Ms MacKay: In the New York Times there's an excellent article that talks about some of the specifics that have happened. I draw your attention in particular to appendix B, which is excellent. It's from the Senate and it talks about a doctor who is in the Senate and about some of the problems they're experiencing with the HMO process within the US. It is our submission that this is the introduction of managed care in Ontario via the workers' compensation system. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much for taking the time to bring this presentation before us. I'm sure we'll look forward to reading the appendix in detail.
Mr O'Toole: I would like to put on the record for clarification that subsection 33(2), which was quoted by the presenters, I'm sure in good faith, is in fact -- I would ask you when you leave here to read the current section 24. The language that you referred to is almost identical. I'm not trying to be belligerent with you. You're trying to imply that there's a managed health care evolution --
The Chair: Mr O'Toole, sorry.
Mr Christopherson: Are you going to give her a chance to respond?
The Chair: No, time's up. We're going to move on to our next presenter.
COMMUNICATIONS, ENERGY AND PAPERWORKERS UNION OF CANADA, LOCAL 39
The Chair: With thanks, I'd like to now call representatives from the CEP, Local 39 Good morning and welcome. You have 20 minutes to make your presentation. You can do that as a full presentation or you may allow time for questions.
Mr Geoff Turner: My name is Geoff Turner of Local 39 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you today on behalf of my 50,000 brothers and sisters in Ontario. There will be two issues that I will be addressing today.
In our workplace we have approximately 1,700 employees and we have injuries primarily involving knees, legs, backs and carpel tunnel. We have negotiated a modified work program with the employer and through it all our injured co-workers have maintained their employment. This program has successfully maintained employment for all injured workers so far and all of them have returned to their regular jobs within six to eight weeks. So far we've not had to deal with a situation where a permanent injury prevents an eventual return to the old job. Our contract does provide employment for these people as well.
We are aware that some employers have return-to-work programs which are really nothing more than a means of getting rebates from the board. It must be emphasized that a successful program is dependent on excellent training for participants and a strong local union involvement to ensure that it is not a walking-wounded scheme and that it is entirely suitable for the injured worker.
This is exactly what will happen with the proposed legislation in Bill 99. Workers could be subject to harassment to return to work by their employer. It has been proven that all parties benefit when injured workers return to the workplace through a successful return-to-work program.
It is also important that the WCB be kept fully informed of the worker's situation. The WCB must follow up with the worker to ensure the suitability of the work. It must continue to receive medical updates and ultimately it must evaluate any permanent impairment. Care must be taken not to lose the worker's rights in regard to the WCB through the return-to-work program which emphasizes the ongoing relationship to his job.
The successful return-to-work program requires such specialized training and such a lot of work that it necessitates its own workplace committee. We believe it should not be added on to the already heavy workload of the health and safety committee.
I would like to take a few minutes to talk about health and safety. We also have a successful health and safety committee and we can boast that we have one of the safest mills in Canada. We have been successful in our workplace, but as you have no doubt heard from other presenters, the situation in the province as a whole is unsuccessful. Statistics from the Ministry of Labour show that the number of serious injuries and fatalities has dramatically risen over the past few years. It is unconscionable that employers are complaining about the costs of workers' compensation when so little regard is had for protecting workers from injury and disease.
In concluding on the issue of return to work, we strongly urge you to change your direction in Bill 99. We ask that you review the success stories, such as the ones that have come about at our workplace.
The other area I'd like to speak on is privatization. Privatization of long-held government services and enterprises is currently popular with some governments in this country as they seek both a guide to reduction of debt and to appease the growing appetite of private industry to expand into these previously protected areas. It is now put forward as a serious proposal by business groups in Ontario as a solution to their concern over the costs of our workers' compensation program.
At least one major American company, Liberty Mutual, known here as Liberty International Canada, has positioned itself to enter our system based on its extensive role in the US. We emphatically reject the notion that private companies in competition with each other can improve on the publicly run collective liability system we now have. We are convinced that the only way private insurance can offer substantially lower rates to employers is through substantially lower payments to injured workers.
In Alberta, a group of employers commissioned a study in 1990 to explore their opinion that private insurance would be a more cost-effective option for delivering workers' compensation. You probably have a copy of this study. The study concluded that generally the WCB is equally as efficient as the private insurance industry in the overall delivery of benefits. The study carefully delineates the factors which make private insurance seem less expensive at first glance. For example, private insurance companies are stringent in selecting what risks they are willing to cover. High-risk industries, especially small ones, tend not to be covered. WCBs must cover all risks.
Compared to the WCBs, private insurance companies pay more limited and lower benefits and provide limited, if any, rehab services. They rarely include a cost-of-living adjustment. Private sector plans are generally last payors: The amount of benefit payable from other plans is deducted from the insured benefit. In contrast, the study points out that a major cornerstone of the workers' compensation system is the assumption of the role of first payor.
Should the WCB system be privatized, these factors would be eliminated by the legislation as cost-saving features. It is important to remember that our WCB pays, as part of its administrative costs, for much more than claims. In Ontario, our WCB's administrative costs accounted for about 12% of total expenses, which included reimbursement for the costs of the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal, the office of the worker adviser, the office of the employer adviser, the Occupational Disease Standards Panel, the Institute for Work and Health, the Workplace Health and Safety Agency and the administration of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Private insurers do not have such comparable costs and yet, for example, the administrative cost for the Sun Life Assurance Co in 1993 was 30% of expenses.
The Alberta study found that the administrative costs for private insurers were somewhat lower than the Alberta WCB's, but that this was offset by the cost of sales and profit to the system, resulting in higher actual cost: WCB 18%; private 22%. The study also found that overall the WCB was able to cover more of its cost through interest on investments than private insurers.
The results of this study have caused at least the Alberta government to abandon its interest in privatization. We urge you, the Harris government, to do the same.
There's a big push for privatization of the workers' compensation system from some sectors, and this is being encouraged by the insurance companies themselves. Business which supports privatization does so in the belief that it would result in lower rates. Study has shown that WCBs are efficient deliverers of the system, and under the collective liability system, smooth out what would otherwise be prohibitive costs to the smaller and to the more risky enterprises. Privatization will not produce lower rates for employers, unless it does so to the detriment of injured workers by providing the least possible service to them. This is not an acceptable tradeoff.
I would like to add one final point of particular concern to those of us who live in the north. We do not have enough doctors, particularly specialists, to give us the level of treatment, in a timely way, which we require. Ideally, we want more doctors living in our communities. In the meantime, the WCB should be willing to fly injured workers for appointments and treatments where they can receive the attention they need without waiting months for an appointment. The delays in appointments can significantly delay recovery and return to work. With the current two-year limitation on re-employment obligations, this is of particular concern to those employees with serious injuries.
I'd just like to say thank you for allowing me to speak to you, I would prefer to answer any questions you have on the modified work. Unfortunately, due to work obligations, my cohort couldn't make it. I am the modified work guy. If you'd like to ask me any questions on that, I'd be happy to answer them.
Mr Patten: Thank you, Mr Turner, for coming this morning. I found your brief quite interesting and I think you're right on the mark in terms of some of the worries of privatization. In many ministries there are many aspects that are privatized and there are lots on the burner at the moment. I know in the vocational rehab area the WCB has already proceeded in its plan to devolve in that area.
One fascinating area I found with your brief was that I'd like some more information on your own in-house program for return to work. You're saying your experience shows that it's far more successful than what you believe the WCB is now or could be in the management of that program. Could you elaborate more on that, please.
Mr Turner: What exactly would you like to know? From step one right through the first meeting with --
Mr Patten: Yes, kind of how you manage it and what you think is different.
Mr Turner: I guess the secret behind our modified work program was that it wasn't something where our employer said, "Okay, this is what we're going to do; this guy isn't going to be off on WCB." It was a joint effort between our union and our employer and it was developed with a consultant. So everybody had input into it.
It was a program developed for equality for everyone. We'll just talk about an injured worker who is injured in the workplace. The person would receive what we call a fit-to-work form, which is filled out by the doctor. It has a list of working parameters for the injured worker. There is no diagnosis on this form, so it's kept completely confidential. It's just things such as if the person has a lower back injury, there's an area on there where it says, "Lifting: Yes or no? How many kilograms? Bending: Yes or no? How many kilograms? Twisting? Prolonged standing? Prolonged sitting? Prolonged walking?" etc.
The doctor would fill that out. We follow the parameters. The doctor has an area for comments where he or she would put in what the injured worker can or cannot do. We follow those completely. If the doctor says, "No, this person cannot return to modified work," then that's what we follow. That is gospel.
Each department in the mill was asked to give a list of jobs that could be specifically put aside for modified work. We have a binder when we go into the meeting -- and by the way, the meetings involve the company supervisor, the company plant nurse, the injured worker and the modified work representative from the union. It's a non-confrontational meeting. The company nurse and the modified work union representative are basically facilitators, and the supervisor and the injured worker work out what they're going to do. We go back to this list, pick a job and the person is back to work, as long as it follows the parameters of what their physician has said they could do.
If everybody is interested, I can run back to the mill and get copies of our modified work program if you would like to see it.
Mr Patten: Very much so.
Mr Turner: Okay, I will do that this morning for you and bring them back. How many copies would you like?
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): One would be enough.
Mr Patten: We can make copies ourselves. Based on what you're talking about -- we've been struggling with trying to find the best possible arrangement -- this looks very exciting and the closest possible arrangement one could have in the work environment, so I think the whole committee would be very interested in this and this may be very useful.
Mr Turner: I will have that before lunchtime for you people.
Mr Patten: Terrific. Thank you very much.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. I would like to raise two areas and ask you to comment further. You spent a fair bit of time talking about concern over privatization and we know that under this government anything that moves is subject to privatization as long as they've got pals who can make money at it. When you state very clearly, "We are convinced the only way private insurance can offer substantially lower rates to employers is through substantially lower payments to injured workers," we know that's the game.
We also know that regardless of what the government purports here this morning, and I suggest you'll hear something that gives all kinds of denials, the reality is that we know the large insurance companies are just salivating at the door, waiting to get their hooks into the WCB. If the government were really interested in improving the system, it would not have killed the royal commission which was almost finished its work in terms of looking at how to improve the existing system, rather than saying they just want to sell it off to their pals. That's one area I'd like you to expand on.
The other one is -- it came up yesterday in Sudbury -- on two occasions employer groups supportive of the government's Bill 99, who thought there ought to be a three-day waiting period, were disappointed that Minister Witmer didn't include a three-day waiting period in her proposal. I notice that you state, "In the meantime the WCB should be willing to fly injured workers for appointments and treatments where they can receive the attention they need without waiting months for an appointment." It's interesting that one of the presenters yesterday certainly left the impression with me that they thought that for the time that was lost trying to get proper medical attention, because of the distance here in the north and the issues you've raised, the penalty ought to be borne by the injured workers, that somehow it was their fault they were injured in the north where there isn't the same kind of medical service as in the south.
Any comments you might have further to privatization and also your thoughts on a possible three-day waiting period and what that might mean for the people you represent?
Mr Turner: First of all, I'd like to comment on the last point you made there. I have an injured worker I'm trying to help with some compensation problems right now. This person has to get a CAT scan and Thunder Bay happens to have a CAT scanner. This person was told, I believe it was four or five weeks ago, that they were going for the CAT scan, and this person is not getting in for their CAT scan until the end of September.
It's painful, number one, being an injured worker, and it's painful to me seeing something like that happening when this person lives about three blocks away from the CAT scanner and they can't even get in to get the diagnosis they need. That's probably one of many horror stories you people are going to hear. Privatization, a three-day waiting period -- that leaves a real bad taste in my mouth.
I am an injured worker. I had an amputation to my hand 10 years ago. My big concern then, because I had a very young family at that time, was (1) am I going to have a job to go back to -- I guess that was my greatest concern -- (2) am I going to lose my whole arm, and (3) what are people going to think about me now?
If I had to wait three days, that would kind of make me feel like a criminal. To me, that is saying: "I guess you wanted the time off. We'll just throw our hand in that machine, chop off a few fingers and get a little time off." My little time off ended up being about 12 operations, gangrene from my little finger up to my elbow and four years and two months off work. It wasn't pleasant at all.
When I go over Bill 99, to me it's like somebody is trying to place the blame on me as an injured worker. That's my gut feeling. We don't go to work every day, trying to do our thing, trying to follow our careers, trying to support our families, trying to help our economy, with the thought: "Maybe I should go and cut something off today. The board will give me a whack of money. I'll have this wonderful NEL or this wonderful FEL for the rest of my life and I can go and buy that new four by four I want." That just doesn't happen. People don't go to work saying to themselves, "I'm going to get hurt so I can get some cash from the board." It just doesn't work that way. That's my personal feeling on that.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Mr Turner, could you elaborate a little more in terms of your return-to-work program that you have set up? Aside from the structure and how it operates, could you provide us with some background on the type of jobs that have been modified so you've got people back to work in your workplace? Would you say that aside from the way the agreement between the employer and your union has structured the package, it is the type of jobs that are available and the flexibility within your workplace that has made your modified work program more successful?
My second question relates to what specific reservations you have in the return-to-work part of Bill 99 that would in effect obstruct your existing successful return-to-work program.
Mr Turner: The part of Bill 99 that is scaring me is when somebody tells me I can't see my doctor, with whom I'm comfortable, who knows my background, when they say, "No, you don't see them; you see this one." That would play mentally and emotionally on me in healing.
As far as the six-week thing is concerned, where it's decided whether you're allowed compensation or you just continue employment, I'm pretty confused on where that is supposed to go.
With our program being put together by the union and the company, it was made fair to all. I can't see someone sitting in Toronto, who has never seen my workplace or even been to my neck of the woods, being able to make a clear decision on how I or a co-worker should be able to return to work. Does that help you out at all?
Mr Hastings: A little bit. I'd be curious about whether the range of jobs you have lends to some degree to the success of your program, aside from the environment and negotiating.
Mr Turner: Certainly we have a lot of different departments; it is a big plant. But when we started this program, we did have a problem with some departments. There were companies that were being a little stubborn about it and didn't want to get on board with everything. But we got that straightened out. It's quite easy to go over their head. But everybody has fallen into place; the program is running 100%.
Certainly with any program -- I can pour a glass or water or something for four people and the fifth one won't like the water. It's like that with any program you're going to have.
The Chair: Mr Turner, on behalf of the committee members, I thank you for coming forward this morning. We look forward to the details of your program.
INDUSTRIAL WOOD AND ALLIED WORKERS OF CANADA, LOCAL 2693
The Chair: I call the representatives from the IWA, Local 2693. Your 20 minutes may be used for your presentation or you may allow time for questions.
Mr Joe Hanlon: Good morning. My name is Joe Hanlon. I am the financial secretary and safety director with the Industrial Wood and Allied Workers of Canada, Local 2693. With me is our first vice-president, John Lorenowich. We represent about 4,000 people, covering a large geographic area from the Manitoba border to Sudbury.
I guess I should be pleased that we were given the opportunity to express our concerns regarding Bill 99. We are more fortunate than the approximately 1,600 people who were refused the same privilege. However, we are not pleased with you and your government. You have your minds made up and you don't care what we have to say. This government has never listened to labour's concerns. The only opinion you want to listen to is that of the employers, academics and bureaucrats in government offices. It is time you listened to ordinary people in this province. You could learn something, like the fact that human life is far more important than profit.
Last week it was reported that Ontario is the third-worst polluter in North America -- not something to be proud of, yet this government must be. Your proposed changes in Bill 99 show the rest of the world that Ontario is working towards being the number one place to kill and injure workers legally and that companies will be rewarded as long as they can hide it. That must be why, through Bill 99, you want to remove the Occupational Disease Panel.
But if you stopped for a moment and thought, the Occupational Disease Panel has saved thousands of lives and the WCB millions of dollars by conducting independent research on workplace disease and identifying the relationship between disease and the workplace. Once the cause was evident, then we have been able to prevent future diseases from occurring.
In the 1970s it came to light that some of our members and others who worked in sawmills and industry were having respiratory problems. A number of studies were conducted, and they found that exposure to wood dust can cause respiratory disease and cancer. Now, better housekeeping, ventilation systems and separate booths have helped to prevent long-term health effects, which has saved lives and reduced financial compensation for the future. However, we have members who work in the woodlands who may not be as fortunate. Companies are changing to chippers in the bush. This has created some respiratory problems for truck drivers and chipper operators because of all the dust. Will these people be compensated in the future? Or will the cost be downloaded to our social programs and health care system because no one will be able to make the workplace connection?
Bill 99 intends to eliminate chronic workplace stress. How? Take away a worker's right to compensation, take it off the books: problem solved.
We know technology is changing rapidly. We know companies are following the Harris government's trend of downsizing. We know there is medical documentation which identifies workplace stressors. We know the causes that lead to psychological disability. We know Bill 99 encourages employers to harass and intimidate workers. We also know that you know. There is chronic workplace stress, and because we all know it exists, we should be working toward prevention, not removing it from the act and pretending it doesn't exist.
Let me ask you: Why Bill 99? Why the changes? I have heard a lot of bogus answers from the Minister of Labour and the Premier. Why can't your government just admit you don't care about the ordinary working people of Ontario? There is no other reason. It can't be because of money. If it was, you would have had the WCB collect the more than $170 million owed by employers -- bad debts -- or possibly passed legislation that would have forced banks and insurance companies to pay into WCB. to cover their employees, just like British Columbia.
It can't be because the WCB is in financial ruin. They have seen administration costs drop 8.3% in only two years, from 1993 to 1995. They have never borrowed a dime and have $8 billion in assets. In 1995 the WCB was one of the top 10 profit-making corporations in Canada with a profit of $510 million, and by the year 2014, under the current system without any changes, the unfunded liability will be paid off completely.
It can't be for employers. You wouldn't think so. They already pay less than 2% of payroll, a small price to pay for insurance in case you kill or maim someone. They are among the bottom third of North American employers when it comes to paying WCB premiums. In 1994 they received $359 million in rebates compared to $337 million paid to injured workers with temporary disabilities. Some Ontario employers have even seen a refund of as much as 80% of their premiums. Employers have also benefited by the drop in new claims costs from $2 per $100 of payroll in 1993 to $1.68 in 1995.
So I ask again, why Bill 99? Sure, employers will benefit from these changes and use it to their advantage. Who wouldn't? Just ask the fox who is put in charge of the henhouse. It may sound ridiculous, but that is exactly what this government intends to do. Why else would you give the employer the right to a worker's medical file without the worker's consent, force workers to ask their employer for a form to make a WCB claim, and allow an employer to force an employee to return to work, injured or not? -- all this and more because the government doesn't care about the people they govern.
That's why you want to cut an injured worker's benefits from 90% to 85% of net, reduce the inflation protection of unemployed workers with disabilities by 75%, force workers to undergo risky operations or take drugs because it is cheaper than the treatment recommended by their physicians, cut future disabled workers' pensions in half, set time limits on chronic pain, eliminate the independent appeals system, place Workers Compensation Act decision-making under the control of an employer representative appointed by this government, deem workers to be able to obtain jobs which are not available and then set their benefit levels under the pretence that a job is available.
These changes will drastically affect an injured worker's right to be fairly compensated for being hurt at work. For some reason, this government seems to believe that a worker went to work one day and said to himself, "I am going to hurt myself today." Do you really believe people want to get injured at work so that they can take a cut in pay, continuously suffer pain, not play with their children as they did prior to the injury, constantly see doctors and specialists, take medication and fight to obtain WCB benefits? We know they don't. A lot of our members, though, who come through our office have gone through all of these struggles.
One member even came into our office and told me he had no option but to go back to work even though his back had not healed. His reason was that his four children needed dental work, medication and clothes. You couldn't tell him that his condition might worsen, because he needed the money. This happened under the current system. The proposed changes would have forced him back to work even earlier.
People are on WCB because they have to be, not because they want to be. They were injured at work and need to be compensated fairly. You want to change the name of WCB to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, WSIB. Do you really believe that by changing the name you can convince people that you care about their safety? The acronym is okay, because words which would be more appropriate and would show the real intent of this bill could be "Workers Shafted and Ignored Big-time."
You would imagine that your government didn't miss a thing in this bill. You've taken an act that had 151 sections and increased it to 178 sections. But just like your government's track record, you missed it on purpose. The most important issue that you failed to address, which would have saved money, injuries and, moreover, lives, is accident prevention. Once again you listened to employers who cannot see any immediate savings. All they can see are the dollars going out and nothing in return.
Accident prevention does work. Let's go back to the 1920s. That's where you're going with this bill anyway. Let's remember the hundreds of people who died in the forest industry cutting down trees. As time went by, everyone worked to reduce fatalities. Finally, labour, government and industry worked together and came up with a manual on the proper way to harvest a tree. Unfortunately, the fatalities still occur, but there are thousands of people who lived thanks to the accident prevention education they received.
There is example after example in every industry which proves prevention education works. However, your government doesn't want to deal with it. Instead, you want to go in the opposite direction. That's why you've dismantled the Workplace Health and Safety Agency, reduced funding to the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and made a mockery of our certification process.
Your bill is nothing more than a blatant attack on the working people of Ontario. You don't care how your changes affect injured workers, their spouses and children. You don't have to look into their eyes and tell them why their lives have been turned upside down. You just sit in your ivory towers and look down upon the people with no remorse, all for the sake of the almighty dollar.
If you had one shred of dignity, you would go back and tell Mike Harris and Elizabeth Witmer that if changes need to be made, there is a fair and equitable process that we have used in Ontario for years, or tell them to look at what British Columbia is doing right now. Industry, labour and government are working together on WCB reform as we speak. That's the way changes can and should be made.
Furthermore, ask them to read the Webster's Twentieth Century Dictionary and look for the word "democracy." It is defined: "Government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is lodged in the hands of the people collectively." As far as I know, we still live in a democratic society, and once you and your government realize that and are prepared to work with everyone -- and that includes labour -- and not just go through the motions as we are doing here today, give us a call. We are not afraid of change. However, we will ensure that our members and their families continue to maintain the standard of living they are accustomed to, something they have worked for and something they deserve.
The Chair: I would like to now call upon representatives from the Canadian Injured Workers Alliance, please, Mr Mantis. Good morning and welcome.
Mr Christopherson: Point of order, Madam Chair: I've waited until Mr Crevar was present because I think it's important that he and Mr Maves be here at the same time when I request yet again unanimous consent to place a motion.
Karl Crevar is the president of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups, one of the key leadership entities in Ontario that has been demanding enough hearings that injured workers could be heard properly. At every community so far, I have tried to place a motion that would have this committee recommend to the minister and the House leaders that we extend these hearings and give injured workers the opportunity and the democratic right they're entitled to, to be heard on something as big as Bill 99. In every community, the government majority has denied me the opportunity to place that motion, and where I have been allowed to place it, they have voted against it. Mr Maves and Ms Witmer have been playing games, in my opinion, in terms of letters and correspondence and meetings when they have been responding to groups who have wanted time.
In the presence of Mr Crevar, who has been one of those demanding that injured workers be heard, and in the presence of the parliamentary assistant, who has a responsibility to carry back that message to the minister, I once again call on the government members to join us in the opposition in allowing unanimous consent so that I can place a motion that would allow these hearings to be extended so that injured workers can bloody well be heard in the way they are democratically entitled to be heard. Will you finally agree to allow that motion to be put, government members?
The Chair: Do I hear unanimous consent to such a motion? No, I do not hear unanimous consent.
Would you please go forward with your presentation.
ONTARIO NETWORK OF INJURED WORKERS GROUPS
Mr Steve Mantis: My name is Steve Mantis, and whereas I am employed with the Canadian Injured Workers Alliance, because of the short time frame for confirmation to be appearing before these hearings, I haven't been able to gain consultation with our full board of directors to be able to present on behalf of the Canadian Injured Workers Alliance. Our member from Ontario is the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups, and through consultation with them, we will be presenting on behalf of our Ontario representatives. With me today is Karl Crevar, who is the president of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups.
It's really hard to know what to say, when you have 20 minutes, about something that will have such significant impact on your lives -- on our lives. I don't know about on your lives. I'm not sure what the accident rate is among MPPs. I'm not sure how much --
Mr Christopherson: Wait till the election.
Mr Mantis: I'm not sure that losing your seat in Parliament is equal to losing a function of your body, and I think this is the point of the presentation today. We're talking about human beings. This is what this is all about. For us and for the majority of people who are affected, it's about human beings and what actually happens to people as a result of a workplace accident that in too many cases ends up in permanent disability.
We've been active in this realm for a number of years, myself for about 18 years, and we have seen successive governments come forward with their new ways to fix workers' compensation. Each time it happens, there's a lot of hoopla: "We're going to make it work, and it's going to be great." There's one thing that has been consistent in each one of those reforms over the last 15 years, and that is that the workers and injured workers have been excluded from the process of designing the reforms to the compensation system. As a result, each one has failed. This initiative is following exactly in those footsteps. There has been no consultation with workers or injured workers on this piece of legislation. We're allowed a little time slot after it's all drawn up and after we hear quite clearly that the government is not about to make any changes of any significance in this piece of legislation.
This is our token opportunity, with no real substance. That is again why Bill 99 is going to fail, because it's about human beings. If we don't understand what happens to human beings once they're hurt, we're not going to be able to design a system that is going to help those individuals and help our community to recover from that.
We've seen that workers' compensation has had very little analysis about outcomes, what happens to workers once they're hurt. The real problems with the system are for workers who have a serious accident or disease and end up with a permanent disability. These are the minority of the cases, somewhere between 5% and 10% of the total, but in Ontario we have over 200,000 workers now with a permanent disability. That's a lot of folks, even though it's just that small minority. That's where the problems really come.
As injured workers and as our organizations, we've said, "If workers' compensation won't look into this, we will." We've been proactive over the last 10 years. Ten years ago we had a provincial conference here in Thunder Bay on rehabilitation of the injured worker and looking at what's going on across Ontario, across Canada, around the world. Two years later we had a national event in Ottawa on re-employment. We were the first people to start talking about re-employment. We've been saying the government isn't doing it, the WCB isn't doing it; we'll start stirring the pot.
In 1994 we started a study on return to work and what are the factors that influence the success or failure. The first thing we did was to phone every compensation board in Canada and say: "What are your numbers? How many people with a permanent disability go back to work? How many are presently employed?" They said, "We don't know, but if you find out, let us know." In fact, we did. We found out that approximately 75% of workers with a permanent disability are unemployed. We recently got some stats from the Ontario WCB that put that number around 78%, so our research is not too far off.
There are a number of other things we saw from this research. The survey was just workers with a permanent disability, that group where we think the real problems lie. Of those workers who went back to work, 60% were re-injured on the job. As a result, their disability was increased and most of those ended up in the ranks of the unemployed. How people go back to work, once again, has not been looked at at all from the human perspective. It's all been looked at from production: How are we going to get this person back producing again?
We've got some real failures here. In Bill 99, though it says nice things about getting people back to work, about preventing accidents, the substance is not there. The addressing what really happens to individuals as human beings is not there.
I can talk about some of that experience. When a person has a serious accident or disease, there are a lot of effects that happen. Not only your physical -- myself, I lost my arm, okay? I no longer have an arm. There are all kinds of other things that happen. Fear is one of the biggest, fear of the unknown: Am I going to go back to work? Who wants me any more? Am I now just something that's going to be thrown out and left on the garbage heap? Will my family still respect me? If I can't go to work, if I can't bring home a regular paycheque, are my kids still going to like me? Am I going to be able to put my kids through school now? Are we going to have to go live on welfare? All these fears, and what's going to happen? What's the WCB going to do, or what aren't they going to do?
From our research, the people who are successful at going back to work have substantial support from their family, their friends and their co-workers. The systems we've designed have all pretty well failed in providing that level of support.
Okay. So you become disabled. You struggle through the compensation system. The number of lives ruined is incredible. The number of lost marriages and families, where people lose their home and everything they own, and lose their future, is staggering. A lot of that has to do with the loss of control, that someone else is now pulling the strings. You don't know what the rules are and no one is there to help you, to tell you how it all works and to support you through that transition.
I lost my arm 19 years ago now. I happened to have a lot of things in my favour. I had a lot of support -- really strong family support, really strong support from my friends -- and went back to work fairly quickly. I just gave my all. Now, not only have I lost my arm, but it has effects on other parts of my body; my neck, my shoulders, my back are giving out. I've been to my doctor recently -- my wrist is giving out -- and he says: "You've got repetitive strain. That's just too bad."
What's the response of Bill 99 for a person with a disability whose condition deteriorates? It's to reduce your benefits year by year by year because of lack of protection from inflation. We're going back, as the previous presenter said, to the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s.
When I lost my arm, I met another fellow at the hospital in Downsview -- same amputation. He was working at Massey-Ferguson: good job, union job, good pay. He had been hurt 30 years earlier, so we sat down and compared our pensions. I was getting $650 a month as a newly injured worker; he was getting $65 a month for that same level of disability that has gotten worse and worse over the years. Now, with Bill 99, that's what I and the rest of the injured workers have to look forward to: a decreasing level. As my disability gets worse, as it becomes harder for me to maintain my employment because more things happen to me, what happens? My benefits get cut back year by year by year. Is that what you think is fair? Do you think that as our conditions get worse we should get less money? I'd really be interested to hear your response to that, though I know this is a one-way thing and you don't get to respond; you only get to listen.
Also, we talk about healing and people getting better. Research done by the University of Toronto has shown that the WCB's treatment of injured workers causes stress and actually creates a greater level of disability. Then the WCB turns around and says: "You're not healing fast enough. You're uncooperative and you're going to be cut off benefits." That action is strengthened in this legislation, because now we'll have that set of healing times, and if you don't make it in those healing times, too bad. You're uncooperative; you're not trying hard enough.
A couple of the other initiatives we've taken: We have developed a video and workbook for workers who are hurt at work. Compensation has done a lousy job. The brochure you have before you talks a little about that. We've seen the failure of our governments and our bureaucracy set to help out, so we've been taking more control in that area and providing resources to people to help them gain that control over their lives, reduce their stress levels, heal faster and get on with their lives.
Also submitted was a video as part of the presentation. Last fall, we put a video together, in partnership with the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups -- I wasn't able to make 25 copies; there is one copy that I hope can be shared -- that we've used in community meetings around Ontario to try to bring people together to discuss these issues and try to develop some community solutions.
Like I say, there's always so much to talk about. I hope you read our brief and reflect on that, because I haven't really touched on too much that's in there. I'd like to turn it over to Karl Crevar, the president of the Ontario network.
Mr Karl Crevar: Good morning. Thank you very much, Steve. I think you hit the nail right on the head in your presentation.
I'm not going to comment on the bill itself, because I want to share some concerns I heard this morning. I find Mr O'Toole's remark personally offensive, about presenters coming up and attempting to mislead anyone who's presenting here, any of the people here or any of the members on this committee. That was in reference to the first presenters. If there's any misleading being done, it's by the government in the form of Bill 99, where they're portraying a crisis in the workers' compensation system, telling the people of Ontario that there is a financial crisis when in fact there is not. If we're going to talk about misleading, let's put the cards on the table about where the misleading information is.
The other point I wanted to raise -- I was appalled this morning; I keep raising the issue, and I can assure you I will continue to raise it -- is the right for people to appear before a committee to express their views. Madam Chair, we had to call you to get into this room. The people of this community had to call the Chair of this committee to tell the police to open the doors to let the people come in. What are you afraid of? When we look at the makeup of the meetings -- a motion was put forward by Mr Christopherson, and I consulted with Mr Maves yesterday -- there is a way, if this committee is willing, to extend the hearings so the people of this province can have the right and have access to this committee so that the stories can be heard.
I say to you, look at your presenters list and what you've got. The people who are going to be affected, the injured workers in this province, represent less than 10% on your presenters list, and that's wrong. Are you afraid to hear the real stories? How can anyone, as Steve just mentioned, portray to you the real story and the real impact that this bill, which we consider the bill of death -- that's your bill, a bill you're going to have to live with if you proceed with it. I ask you, in the name of humanity, the least you can do is go back and request to extend the hearings so that more people can be heard. Do the decent thing. Do the right thing. If you're not prepared to do that, we're asking you to go back to the Minister of Labour and to the Premier and tell them to withdraw Bill 99. Bill 99 will kill people.
When we talk about Bill 99, when we talk about changes to the workers' compensation system, let's get into the real world. I've heard a lot of comments. Mr O'Toole mentioned this morning the question of deeming. You're damned right they're deeming, and that's where people are being hurt, because they're being deemed. They're being deemed to be able to work when they're not able to work. They're being deemed on certain types of medication. That's not human talk; that's Big Brother talk.
I ask you, withdraw the bill, go back to the minister, go back to the Premier, start at the drawing board and talk to the people whose lives you're going to affect by making these changes to Bill 99.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. Unfortunately, there's no time for questions.
Mr Crevar: That's the whole problem, that the 20 minutes is up. How can people express their views?
Mr Maves: A point of order, Madam Chair, before Mr Crevar leaves. Mr Mantis, you said you submitted one copy of the video you mentioned in here. Have you also submitted a copy of the workbook?
Mr Mantis: No.
Mr Maves: Could you do that? At least one copy.
Mr Mantis: Why don't you fill out the little form and send it in? We've got funding available for injured workers groups that are low-income. I think people who have income might be interested in supporting the project.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION
The Chair: I now call upon representatives from the Amalgamated Transit Union, Mr Stephens. Good morning, sir. Welcome. You have 20 minutes in which to make your presentation. You may or may not allow for questions.
Mr Dan Campbell: My name is Dan Campbell. I'm here in place of Dave Stephens. I'm a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union and a bus driver for the city of Thunder Bay.
Now that you're here in the north, we should perhaps try and share some of the realities of growing up and living in the north. I grew up in a small town called Geraldton, where the major industries were logging and mining. At a young age, it became very apparent to us that these were dangerous occupations. As children growing up, we were continually reminded of perils of the workplaces. From time to time, fathers, brothers, uncles or grandfathers of our classmates, neighbours and friends were killed at work. It wasn't uncommon to see someone come down to the school and haul the kids out; everybody more of less knew what was up, because the principal would be there and a member of the family. It was something we got to see on a relatively regular basis.
Living in a small, tightly knit community, everyone was able to see the impact on both the family and the community. As children, at the ages of 9, 10 and 11, words like "chico," "widow-maker," "rockbursts" and "silicosis" were in the vocabulary of kids because they were things that really affected us as we were growing up here. We could see the economic impact on the children we played with: the hand-me-down clothes, eyes that showed a nine-year-old carrying the weight of the world. But I don't believe I can express to you the profound sense of lost that children underwent as they saw their world fall down around them at the same time the ground was pulled out from under their feet.
Here we sit today contemplating legislation that promises to see such tragedies in these communities to families as yet unscathed. It's ironic that we now live in a province that values the bottom line of corporate greed and profit over the health and safety of its citizens.
I'm reminded of a funeral I attended as a member of the junior choir. The son of one of the senior choir members was killed in a truck accident involving a pulp truck. One of the most striking things in that experience was the complete and utter devastation of that pulp truck driver, to see him basically prostrate before the congregation feeling just terrible about what he had done, what he felt he was responsible for. In fact, there was no fault. It was just a regrettable thing that happened.
Here we sit again. I believe that while you enjoyed the prestige of the powers vested in you as members of the standing committee, you have little understanding of the responsibilities vested in you. Understand that reducing the cost of workplace tragedy will only allow it to increase. By your participation in and support of this legislation, you will truly be responsible for the deaths and injuries that follow. But unlike that truck driver, I doubt you'll make it to the funerals, because I doubt you have the strength of moral character to take the responsibility for your actions. If you did, I sincerely doubt you'd be willing to sit on this panel.
If I seem somewhat cynical, somewhat jaded, I can only tell you that the hand of fate that touched so many families around us also touched the lives of my family. On August 22, 1979, while in the employ of the province of Ontario, my 16-year-old sister was burned to death with three close friends and three co-workers all under the age of 17. One adult, the eighth, was seriously burned, scarred physically and emotionally for life. I also believe that that man took responsibility for a tragedy not of his making, while the government of the day spent in excess of one year on an inquest trying to avoid its responsibility.
I think you have to understand that people die out there. They're not only injured, but they die.
The surprising thing is that the document generated by the inquest was about yea thick but boiled down to the fact that they died of stupidity and arrogance which, to my own personal horror, is reflected in the government's continual attack on working people.
While I sit here before you today, I even question whether you're actually listening or if I'm being heard. If you believe the government of Ontario is one of the best and safest employers in the province, I have information that would tell you otherwise. As Ontarians, I believe we have the right and the obligation to expect that of government, but it seems you have little understanding of the impact on working people. Perhaps it's due to your perspective. Maybe, growing up in the south, you see workplace injuries as paper cuts and bruises from walking into paper machines. Maybe in larger cities you don't see the strain on families coping with the loss or injury of loved ones and the economic harm it brings. Or if you've seen these things, maybe you've just forgotten.
Maybe you don't understand that the best way to save money on WCB costs is to prevent the accidents from occurring in the first place. It can be done. When I started working for the city of Thunder Bay, we had an average of six to eight people on compensation at any one time. However, with the investment of my employer in power steering, better seating and better training of employees, the experience in my workplace seems to have dropped to half. But the legislation before us makes the investment by employers unnecessary. Worse, it seems to place the responsibility of workplace injuries on the worker, the victims of this legislation.
We don't go to work to be maimed or killed. We work to support our families and society as a whole. We endeavour to fulfil our obligations to our employers, our creditors, not to mention to our families and our community. Within the WCB Act we forfeit our right to civil suit against our employers for their negligence, and trust that our governments will protect us, but that's not what's happening here. You're selling us out to the highest bidder for the lowest common denominator: the easy, quick buck. The real tragedies are yet to come, and rest assured, they will.
If you allow this legislation to pass, fate has a way of coming back at you. If you have families, understand that tragedy can reach out to you, that with diminished workplace safety you will place them in harm's way. Three of the youngsters who died that day came from southern Ontario, possibly some of your ridings. When we fail to learn from history, I only fear it has a habit of repeating itself.
The Chair: We have three minutes remaining per caucus for questions. We'll begin with Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Mr Campbell. That was one of the most moving presentations we've heard anywhere. I don't have a lot of questions, because I think your presentation made the points, but I did want to ask you one. In your review of Bill 99 and your own experience in terms of your personal loss, are you aware of anything in Bill 99 that seems to address what Steve called the "humanity factor" or that in any way seems to help injured workers, or does it look to you like everything in Bill 99 is just taking it backwards?
Mr Campbell: Interestingly enough, the gentleman who survived was a native Canadian about 56 years old. He felt devastated by what had happened. I believe Bill 99 would go so far as to remove the benefits for workplace stress. If you're working with seven kids and you try to save their lives and fail, run through a wall of fire, basically burning the skin off every digit on your hands while covering your face, I guess you undergo a little bit of stress along with it. Had he not been so severely injured, I believe this bill would see him non-compensable for dealing with that stress. I think the stress on this gentleman eventually led to his death.
Mr Christopherson: I want to thank you again very much for coming forward. I can only hope that the government members, who have the power to do something about what's before us, are listening.
Mr Campbell: It was a Conservative government in 1979 and it's a Conservative government now, and I hope things don't repeat themselves.
Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North): Mr Campbell, thank you very much for an impassioned presentation. I appreciate that. I wanted to ask you a question, and I'm just going to preface it a bit, if I may.
When the former minister of WCB, Cam Jackson, began developing the inquiry to get to this bill, he had talked to something like 150 injured workers and there were also 200 formal submissions made. We've also heard a number of presentations, both in Toronto and these first couple of days in Sudbury and here, from the various advocacy groups for the injured workers. Obviously, what has come forward from a lot of these presentations, probably most vividly by Mr Mantis in the last presentation, is that a lot of the problems experienced by injured workers with WCB didn't just surface in the last 24 months; they've been around for a while.
Mr Campbell, what would be your highest recommendation in terms of what you think should be addressed in changing the WCB to best address the needs of the workers? Bill 99 aside, just tell us what your priority would be.
Mr Campbell: Currently the setup with WCB involves confrontation. Adjudicators are pitted against workers, and they have a tremendous workload, people continually calling up to find out what's going on with their claim. There's a real adversarial situation created by the board where the rubber meets the road. We spend more time arguing and bickering over stupid things than in actually dealing with the problems. I think when that's addressed you'll see things improve.
Mr Spina: So it's the attitude of the case worker, maybe the communications with regard to the --
Mr Campbell: It's not the attitudes; I'm talking about the physical setup of workers' compensation, where anything done there is usually done in an adversarial situation. If the board is truly there to assist injured workers, it has to get away from that adversarial situation; it has to start looking at what's going on. Things have to change within the structure of the board.
Mr Spina: You indicated that southern Ontario is out of touch with northern Ontario.
Mr Campbell: That's my perception. I've never spent much time in southern Ontario, so I truly don't know. Maybe I'm out of touch with southern Ontario.
Mr Spina: If it's any consolation, I doubt it. I grew up in the Sault, and even though I'm from southern Ontario now, I lived there until I was in my mid-20s and I know what it was like to be around Algoma Steel and Abitibi Paper in the Sault.
With regard to the WCB -- this is back to the confrontation thing you talked about -- would it be of any help if the northern Ontario regional offices of WCB were more in touch with the injured workers here? Where's your closest contact with the board?
Mr Campbell: Typically, directly with the adjudicator. If things fall off the tracks, you're in no man's land and you're basically banging all over the place. I think there has to be a real effort by WCB to deal with injuries. Prevention is the key. It's not about cutting the benefits to employees, it's not about forcing them back to work before their time. Preventing the injury in the first place is the only sane way to go.
Mr Patten: Thank you for your presentation this morning, Mr Campbell. I'd just like to underline some of your comments, because what we're really talking about is the purpose of the board. We've heard this from a number of presenters. There is an acknowledgement of a shift; the change in name, in one sense, says it all. It looks to me and to a lot of people like the shift is that it's not a workers' compensation program any more, it's an insurance company, that that's the model. An insurance company looks at minimizing benefits and maximizing its control and supporting its financial position, which any organization would have to do to some degree in terms of controlling its financial position.
I think the government, in the last election, appealed to a certain population of people and propagated the idea that people who use and receive compensation are fraudulent and take advantage of the system and abuse the system. They developed a mythology in the general population that there's a lot of abuse going on here and that these people are out to get something for nothing. I think that's what the unfairness is, this perception now that we have to knock back and change.
I think it's based on that. The shift, in my opinion, is based on a very negative thing. That's why it's so bloody difficult, not only now, but I believe it will be even more difficult in the future for somebody to get compensation, because they will be challenged about the appropriateness or whether it's really true about their injury and this sort of thing. The assumption is a negative one, not a humane one, not a compassionate one. I don't know if you have any response to that.
Mr Campbell: In all truth and honesty, I would go so far as to suggest that there are those who would believe that my sister feigned her death as well. I talk about death in the workplace because it has touched me, but coming out of mortality is morbidity, injuries on the job. They go hand in hand. Deaths in the workplace are no more faked than are those injuries. When a government climbs to power by slandering the helpless, these are things that we as a society have to guard against. Having used it as a tool in an election campaign, the government at least has the responsibility to back down from such an asinine position.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation today. We appreciate your taking the time to come before us.
UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL 5055
The Chair: I'd now like to call upon Mr Smith from the United Steelworkers of America, Local 5055. Good morning, sir. Would you introduce both yourself and your colleague for the record, please.
Mr Rob Smith: For whoever needs it, the copies of the brief are here. The gentleman on my right is Tom Chauvin Jr. He is the president of my local at Pascol Engineering where we work.
I'm here to address you on Bill 99. As you'll see on the first page, I consider Bill 99 to be future past and past future, and we'll explain that as we go through the brief.
Thanks today for the chance to put forward to you our brief and our local union views. It's my firm conviction that if Bill 99 passes the Legislature as it fundamentally stands now, compensation matters won't be moving towards the betterment of its stakeholders: workers and employers. Our future is going to regress to our painful past and our past will once again become a reality of our unchanging future.
That's the that Bill 99 brings forward to you. Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution: In your examination of Bill 99, I hope you realize it does not make any common sense at all. What you're doing here is moving backwards, not forwards. You're putting us back to the past and that isn't common sense.
Tom and I come to you from a workplace at Pascol Engineering where we do shipbuilding and ship repair, and when we're not doing that type of work, we do large-scale general industrial projects for the forest and mining sectors.
I come to you with 17 years of experience in health and safety and compensation representation. At this time I'd like to speak to you on three specific areas in the bill: (1) the structure of the board of directors as it stands now; (2) the elimination of the Occupational Disease Panel; and (3) the proposed limitations to WCAT.
Bill 15 went ahead and rearranged totally and fundamentally the past structure of the corporate board of directors. The way it was designed in the past was that you had labour and injured worker representation on the board. If you're not aware of it, one of those people, Steve Mantis, used to sit on the board of directors, representing injured workers. At that time, at the level of the board, when policy and changes and whatever came to the board's purview to take a look at, workers and injured workers had the chance, in an equal forum, to put their concerns forward, debate them and have workers, people like myself and Tom, have our views and whatever brought forward to you.
The way it stands now there is no representation for workers and injured workers on the board. If you take a look at it now and see the interests and where the people on the board come from, they either represent small business or large business, and it's a corporate view It doesn't have anything to do with workers and injured workers. Again, I put it to you: Does that make common sense? One sector, probably the largest sector of your population, has no view and no say at that level.
In 1913, when Meredith brought down his report that framed the foundation of the Workmen's Compensation Act in 1915, one of his underlying thoughts at that time was, "If those who benefit and profit most in the work being performed by workers do not pay the costs for the injury and illness being inflicted on those workers, then it will diminish their reason(s) for doing anything to prevent the damage." Until you go ahead and realize that your present structure of the board of directors doesn't reflect workers' and injured workers' views, I don't think we're going to see any justice.
I have a poem here that I think puts the idea of justice forward to you. It's called Justice and it's written by a miner, a worker:
Justice sat on her golden throne
with her golden scales, aloof, alone
Pondering long with her golden eyes
our mighty throng, its swollen size
Asking what she well could give
asking only enough to live
Ever then with a shuffling gait
we were joined by others who came to wait
Broken and twisted, with poisoned lungs
asking justice with a thousand tongues
For none knew better than we who were there
our time was short, we'd none to spare
There were cures for drink, disease and narcotics
but there was only death for we, silicotics.
In summation, on the board of directors, until we have an equal say once again, I don't see how you can talk about justice being available to workers and injured workers.
I'd like to tell you something else. I come from a workplace, and in February 1983 we killed three people in our workplace, and then subsequently, in June of that same year, we killed two more. Tom and I were both intimately involved in the deliberations that went on, the inquiries and sitting with the government and our company, and I come to tell you that you basically have to kill somebody in a workplace before you see fundamental change.
That's the belief system I come from, and we proved it there. We got involved in a tripartite system where the union, the government -- through the Ministry of Labour -- and the company sat down, and we went ahead and changed our workplace around, but we only did that, we only accomplished what we accomplished in our workplace, by being able to work together and the union having an equal say and voice in the changes that took place to bring our accident frequency down and to make our shipyard, our establishment, one of the better places to work in and sort of regain the confidence of our members, that they weren't going to work to be maimed and die, that it could turn around and become a healthier and safer workplace.
Let's take a look at the elimination of the Occupational Disease Panel. In 1915, when the act came into place with schedule 3, entitlement to compensation for occupational disease was recognized. In 1985, the Industrial Disease Standards Panel was created, and in 1986 you changed its name to that of the Occupational Disease Panel. In the 72 years from 1915 to 1985, the act recognized entitlement to compensation for workplace diseases and injuries in 24 cases. In the period from 1985 to 1986, the ODP recognized the causal link to workplace occupational disease and injury, as its mandate directed it, in 13 cases.
In less than 10 years of the ODP being brought into place, they fundamentally changed the act and recognized that there was a direct link between workplace exposure and the onset of the diseases and injuries that the workplace causes. They used sound scientific and medical protocols to determine these things, and if you take a look at their panel structure, they had members from the scientific and medical community, government and labour all putting forth their expertise, and it's a system that worked.
You state that one of the premises of Bill 99 is to secure the financial stability of the compensation system for injured workers and to promote the prevention of injury and disease in Ontario workers. I speak to you and I tell you that you are going against what the bill is designed to do when you go ahead and you eliminate the Occupational Disease Panel. That panel is a necessity, and it's a necessity that it have a mandate at arm's length from the board to be able to determine its mandate and bring into place the necessary knowledge and compensation entitlement for those workplaces that go ahead and do bring maiming, illness and disease and fatalities to the workers who work in those places.
They have also, by their expertise, by the recognition of occupational diseases and injury, caused the workplace to get cleaned up and it does get cleaned up. When you recognize a causal link between workplace occupational disease and injury, that forces the employer to go ahead and become a better employer in health and safety and compensation, and it makes sense to the employer.
It doesn't make sense to me to talk about the elimination of the Occupational Disease Panel and bringing it back under the board's direct control, because what's going to happen is you're going to have more workers dying in the workplace, and the knowledge of what's causing those diseases and injuries and deaths won't come about until it's happening right in front of your nose.
Statistically, for epidemiological studies, you have to have an overwhelming mortality rate of two to one before anybody's interested in trying to prove there's a linkage in the workplace between the diseases and the injuries that are coming from it. Right now the only way you can have the board get involved in something is if there's overwhelming proof that something's wrong in the workplace, and then you may decide to go ahead and appoint a commission to do the ODP's job. Right now the ODP's doing a damn good job and you're trying to kill it because it's proved to be costly. Again I put to you, does that make common sense, to take away something that's proved to be effective? You tell me.
Last and not least is the point on limiting the independence of WCAT. Very frankly and very briefly, in all the we're hearing from labour and its representatives and injured-worker representatives, we're hearing that there's a growing groundswell of opposition within the employer community about the potential of your Bill 99 amendments to WCAT in limiting it.
On employer issues relating to second-injury enhancement to the NEER and CAD systems, when it has to go to the WCAT level and the employers are putting their issues forward, they are getting good decisions and they have liked the decisions WCAT has brought down. Labour has always said, "We'll take the chips as they fall." We've got some good decisions -- the chronic pain is just one outstanding example of it -- but employers have had their kick at the cat and they have found that WCAT has been as good to them as it has been for labour and injured workers. I say to you, in your deliberations on third reading, leave the present legislation for WCAT alone.
Conclusion: A compensation agency truly concerned with fiscal responsibility and the prevention of injury and disease in Ontario workplaces should realize that these concerns can only be effective when both worker and employer stakeholders work as equal partners under the law to produce actions and activities that reduce the hazardous injuries and diseases of the workplace. We can produce these changes, but we can't do it with Bill 99.
Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough): Thank you, sir, for your presentation. I'll be very quick and give you a chance to answer. What kind of relationship do you feel there should be between WCAT and the board? If you had a perfect structure, how would you suggest that work?
Mr Smith: A perfect structure?
Mr Stewart: Yes.
Mr Smith: I would argue personally that the present legislation for WCAT only needs to have one change, and that is that when WCAT renders a decision, the present legislation that allows the board to take a look at that decision and freeze it until the board can make a determination on that should be gone. WCAT should truly be an independent arm of the Ministry of Labour and should do its job and should interpret as it sees fit.
The Chair: Mr Gravelle is next. By the way, I should say that we're very pleased to be here in Thunder Bay, in Mr Gravelle's riding, and we're glad he's able to join us this morning.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): Thank you. Good morning. A couple of quick things. On WCAT, I guess the thing that bothers me the most about that is, it ties in with some other directions this government is going in. Whatever tribunals are out there are all being, in essence, changed to make it that they can literally only deal in terms of policy that is set by the board or by the government. The Social Assistance Review Board is the same sort of thing. To me, what's happening is that the government is able to say, "Oh, we've got this appeals tribunal in place," but in essence it's one that's so limited in terms of its scope, and the membership is so set up, that they're just simply going to follow policy.
The loss of independence, to me, makes them -- I would hesitate to call them a farce -- not nearly as useful in terms even of the government as they should be. I think that's wrong and obviously you agree. One of the big battles we have is to say to the government, "Either you have a tribunal, whether it's WCAT or the other ones, that's truly independent or don't pretend you have one." I take it you agree.
Mr Smith: Yes, I would concur. I would just say that if you undertook to have a review of all the decisions that WCAT brought down, you would see that their reflections and their deliberations reflect a balanced approach.
Mr Gravelle: That is important. On the Occupational Disease Panel, the important point you're making I think is that eliminating it, absorbing it into the WCB itself doesn't make any sense, even in terms of the long-term costs. If the government's concerned about worker safety and about the workplace itself, maintaining the Occupational Disease Panel as an independent scientific place would not just be good for the workers, but good indeed for the long-term health in terms of workers, which is going to be better for the government itself. It's a strange decision in that sense.
Mr Smith: Yes. I would also say that with the demise of the ODP, all of those costs that are assessed because of injured workers going off the job and remaining off the job and being on their companies' sick plans, or being on welfare because they get put there, the proper economics are not being followed in that if this happened in the workplace and they can't prove it happened in the workplace, the costs should be coming out of where it's occurring. If the employer has a workplace that is causing these diseases, the economic costs should not be thrown upon the Ontario taxpayers to pay for it. It's the employer's responsibility to pay for it.
When you take a look at Meredith's report, it was their Final Report on Laws Relating to the Liability of Employers. That was the tradeoff on the five principles of the act, that said injured workers would get an income and that income would be funded collectively by the employers paying for it, and the employers then wouldn't get stuck having to be drawn into the court system to prove it. So we gave up these rights. We got an equal tradeoff, but the Ontario taxpayer is not going to get a tradeoff because all these hidden costs are once again going to be coming back to us if we eliminate the ODP as a tool for proper workplace health and safety and occupational disease injury recognition.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. Your 17 years' experience shows itself clearly as you speak to these issues. I want to raise two issues with you. One is that we ought not to be fooled with regard to WCAT. We know employers are expressing concerns, somewhat up front but more behind the scenes, to the government because they're terrified, I think, that the Tories have politicized the whole process so much that if their good friends the Tories ever lose power they could find themselves on the short end of the stick, so they like the idea that the independence of WCAT would be there. I suspect that change will be coming. The government will claim they did because they were listening to presentations like yours, but we ought not be fooled. It was very much because their employer friends have said, "We want that change," and all we'll see is the spin. So watch for that to happen. That's what we suspect is coming down the pipe.
In terms of the Occupational Disease Panel, one of the difficulties we have, and you must face it too, is that oftentimes the average person doesn't pay an awful lot of attention to the details of legislation, or things like the ODP look like they're sort of lost as minor details of major pieces of legislation. It's sometimes hard to get through, "Look, this is a crucial piece that has relevance for you." If you were speaking to one of the workers in this province who will be affected by the killing of the ODP, in your own words, how would you put it to average working persons that they need to be concerned about the loss of the Occupational Disease Panel under Bill 99?
Mr Smith: I would very simply say to them that by killing the ODP you're going to see the accident frequency rate for permanent impairments, permanent disabilities and worker fatalities start to rise again. We went ahead and proved under your government, when we enacted the Workplace Health and Safety Agency and the health and safety training that came down for certified workers and so on, and the statistics showed the recognition that education of the working people was a necessary component. All that sort of died, and without that education, without government funding for it and government initiatives for it, without the education the ODP can provide from the studies they bring forth, you're going to see workplaces become less effective in dealing with health and safety and more effective in harming people.
Mr Christopherson: Just in closing, if I can -- I know my time is up -- you mentioned Bill 15 and the changes and that didn't get near the attention it should in terms of the tripartism of the board. The Workplace Health and Safety Agency, of course, was also equally run by workers and that's anathema to this government. That's another reason it went down in flames.
The Chair: Gentlemen, on behalf of the committee, I thank you for taking the time to come before us with your views this morning.
THUNDER BAY DISTRICT HOSPITALITY ASSOCIATION
The Chair: I'd like to now call upon representatives from the Thunder Bay District Hospitality Association, please. Good morning, sir. Welcome.
Mr Mike Meady: Good morning. My name is Mike Meady and I'm the chairman of the Ontario Hotel and Motel Association as well as a principal with East Side Mario's restaurant here in Thunder Bay. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today.
Our members have and continue to support the workers' compensation system, but in doing so recognize the need to correct a system that was in need of repair. The case for reform is undeniable. The WCB's unfunded liability, the difference between assets and liabilities, has increased by 470% between 1983 and 1994. In dollar terms that has gone from $2 billion to $11.4 billion. In the interim it has dropped slightly, but not close to giving anyone comfort that the crisis has passed. Correspondingly, the accident rates have dropped 33%, while employer assessment rates rose 46%.
Over the past 10 years, each political party has attempted WCB reform on the basis that the system was in need of repair. Despite these reforms -- the Tories in 1984, the Liberals in 1989 and the NDP in 1994 -- the unfunded liability continues to expand. This phenomenon has the effect of putting at risk Ontario's workers' compensation system, and with it the future wellbeing of injured workers.
It is perhaps worthwhile to look back and see why Ontario's workers' compensation has come off the rails. One only has to look at the royal commission reports of 1950 issued by Justice Roach and of 1967 by Justice McGillivray. Justice Roach said: "This act should be considered for what it is and what it was originally intended to be: a scheme by which compensation is provided in respect of injuries to workers in the industry. It is not a system for dispensing charity. It is not special legislation for the purpose of elevating the standard of a group in society at the expense of another."
He went on to say: "I will have an occasion to point out later that certain amendments which have been introduced to the act since it was originally passed are really in the nature of social legislation and a departure from the original scheme which was the purpose of the act. The effect of the amendments has been to impose upon industry burdens which should be borne by society generally."
It is interesting to note that Justice McGillivray reiterated in his royal commission report that Justice Roach's comments were still valid. Bills 101, 162 and 165 only continue to distort the system. Our criterion to support the workers' compensation system has been that it continues to be affordable, sustainable and competitive. The current system fails on all three accounts. We believe that Bill 15 with respect to the system's governance and administration is now in hand. Uncosted government amendments and expanded entitlements are being addressed in this legislation, but certain amendments we believe will meet the objectives.
Bill 99 is about fairness and equity in the workers' compensation system. It is also about ensuring that the system is sustainable in the future without jeopardizing the ability of the system to adequately deal with workers' injuries and employers' ability to contribute. The legislation is more about an evolution and could be best described as the result of past government attempts, as I mentioned earlier, to correct a system everyone agreed was in dire need of fixing.
Despite the rhetoric, which seems to accompany every change in the system, I suggest that you will agree the changes are better, or shall I say fairer, for both employees and employers. To truly achieve this notion of real fairness, we believe Bill 99 needs some changes. They're not major but critical in our view to having the new legislation meet the litmus test of fairness.
I would be remiss in not mentioning our disappointment with the legislation not including the three-day waiting period, as New Brunswick successfully introduced, in the definition of "injury." Employers advocate rewriting the definition of "accident," specifying that accident "means" rather than "includes" and adding compensation language to strengthen the link between disability and employment.
Employers further recommend deleting the presumption clause and replacing the benefit of doubt principle with the balance of probabilities and real merits and justice. We offer the following proposed amendments as a guide. The areas that require amending are as follows:
Wage loss, section 43: Bill 99 calibrates many of the shortcomings of the wage loss process, requiring benefits to be adjusted as the worker's circumstances adjust -- a basic, simple principle, yet one lacking since wage loss was introduced seven years ago. However, Bill 99 confers extraordinary powers on the board which lead to a proliferation of appeals. For example, the bill will allow the board to deem a worker's earnings if a labour market re-entry plan for the worker has been fully implemented without defining what "fully implemented" is. The government's intentions are lost in this vague language.
Duty to co-operate, section 40: A duty to co-operate for the worker and the employer is a positive innovation. However, much of this section is redundant and already covered under sections 41 and 43. We also cannot agree with the emphasis on fines, which it should be noted runs counter to the government's own pre-election commitments in this area. The need for employment searches also cannot be supported in this area as it is well covered under section 41.
Section 40 creates an additional and unended legal exposure for employers and needs to be rethought.
Assessment rates, section 80: Bill 99 provides a very broad discretion to the board in the setting of company assessment rates. However, individual disputes are not allowed to proceed to the tribunal. Inevitably, mistakes will occur in the board judgement and therefore disputes must be allowed to proceed to the tribunal.
Stress, section 12: Bill 99 removes the board's jurisdiction to consider claims for chronic occupational stress, which will open the door for needless courtroom action. It would be better to set out, in very strict language, what the entitlement criteria are and have the board determine these cases.
The appeals tribunal, sections 117 and 118: The appeals process needs reform. The method set out in Bill 99 is not appropriate as it curtails the policy audit function of the board, for which we believe there is a need. We agree the board should have control over the entire matter of the making of policy. We suggest that where a decision of the tribunal turns upon an interpretation of policy and general law, and the tribunal is of the view that the present policy or the board's interpretation of the policy is incorrect, rather than have the tribunal apply what may be an incorrect or inappropriate policy, the tribunal must be required to bring the matter to the attention of the board of directors. The board would then be required to review the matter of policy and law within a certain time and advise the tribunal of the results of the review.
Non-economic loss, sections 46 and 47: The simplification of the NEL process is appreciated. The drafting error in subsection 46(2) regarding maximum and minimum payments -- as it now reads, the minimum for even a 1% NEL would result in about a $28,540 payment. It is also suggested that the prescribed time for reassessment be extended from 12 to 26 months.
Special reserve fund, section 95: The sickness and injury enhancement fund has had a very long and important history in workers' compensation in Ontario. Unfortunately, it has never been explicitly written into law, and we believe now is an appropriate time to do so.
With these amendments, we can support the passage of Bill 99. It is required to ensure the successful implementation of the new act. We believe the package can then meet the objectives mentioned earlier: affordable, sustainable and competitive. More money is not the answer, as it has been tried and failed. The best way is to ensure that injured workers have a system in place that will provide the assistance they need to ensure the passage of Bill 99.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have just less three minutes for questions per caucus, beginning with Mr Patten.
Mr Patten: Thank you very much, Mr Meady, for your presentation. The test you suggest -- affordable, sustainable and competitive -- there's probably still a test for each one of those. What does "affordable" mean? "Sustainable" I understand, that the fund can maintain itself in terms of its programs and payouts and this kind of thing. I understand that one, but I have some questions around what "affordable," really means for you, and "competitive," when I don't know if there's any other program. Is it competitive with the private sector, with insurance companies? The WCB does more, I would think, than most insurance companies would in terms of its other functions, which are to support prevention, let's say, to support education in the workplace for safety, things of that nature. I wonder if you might elaborate on affordability and competitiveness.
Mr Meady: In regards to "competitive," whether there is a basis between the WCB or a private enterprise, I'm not sure there is any parallel you can draw. It does have to be competitive to -- if you have a look in terms of whether other options are available, how many of those options, I couldn't give you that at this time.
In regards to being affordable, "affordable" has to be addressed in the respect that there has to be an ability to pay, for the employers themselves, for the system to be workable as well. Obviously, if it's not affordable, if they don't have the ability to pay into the system, the system won't work and the system won't be there for the workers themselves. That's really what I'm addressing in regards to the affordability of the program.
Mr Patten: I agree. I always worry a little about the ability to pay, because there are very few employers, both in the public sector and the private sector, who say they really can afford to pay. I have trouble with that term, but I understand your particular intent.
In terms of the aspect of competitiveness, though, an idea came up, and I wondered if you would support it; that is, that while there are sectors that have various rates depending upon their accident levels or accident rates, a suggestion during these hearings was to focus on those sectors that would have an impact on the overall rate scheme of the fund itself. Would you agree with that?
Mr Meady: To focus on the individual groups that have a higher assessment rate or a higher probability rate?
Mr Patten: A higher accident rate.
Mr Meady: Focus in which way? I'm not sure.
Mr Patten: In terms of the nature of injuries, the safety of the workplace, essentially.
Mr Meady: I really don't have any comment in regard to that right now. I'm not exactly sure what you're getting at.
Mr Christopherson: I can only assume, sir, that you're unaware, to give you the benefit of the doubt, of how disrespectful and insulting the injured workers who are here today and from across this province would find your suggestion that Bill 99 represents fairness and equity to injured workers, certainly when you suggest that there ought to be a three-day waiting period. I mentioned to these injured workers this morning that that was raised yesterday in Sudbury, and I'm sure some of them thought I had to be mistaken, that it didn't happen. To suggest that injured workers ought to be penalized, as if they've done something wrong, when they're the injured victims in cases like this just boggles the mind, sir. I would ask you to reflect on just how disrespectful and damaging it is for injured workers to hear you talk that way about Bill 99.
In the short time we have -- there were a lot of things you said that I'd like to talk about further, but I want to talk a bit about the unfunded liability and the fact that you still think there's a crisis there. I want to raise with you the fact that as a result of the changes we made when we were in government, the unfunded liability has now dropped, over the last three years, by over $1 billion, that there is $8 billion in assets that the WCB now has, that they've never borrowed a dime and their administrative costs have dropped dramatically. How anyone can call that a crisis I'll never know.
But just for the sake of argument, let's assume that somehow you could translate that into a crisis, that what I've just outlined is in reality a crisis. If that were the case, how in God's creation would you ever justify, in the light of a crisis like that, giving back employers $6 billion of revenue, if the reason you're attacking injured workers is to deal with this crisis? That just leaves me cold. I have no idea how you can defend that, and I'd really appreciate hearing your thoughts.
Mr Meady: In regard to the unfunded liability and the drop of $1 billion, the information I received suggests that the real reasons for the decline in the unfunded liability are better-than-expected investment income as a result of lower-than-expected inflation, and fewer accidents. But there is a fluctuation, if you look at it on a long-term or a larger scale, in regard to where the unfunded liability is in a longer-term period. If you look at the short-term period, yes, there is a decline of $1 billion. But when you're dealing with $11.5 billion or $11.4 billion, yes, these particular factors contributed to that $1-billion decline, but to say there's not a crisis, to say that's still not there, is just overlooking the entire unfunded liability problem as a whole.
Mr Christopherson: I would refute your causes of why. The fact of the matter is that those savings were projected in the changes we made when we were in government. That's why we made them. But we certainly didn't attack injured workers in the process of doing this to the degree that your employer pals are getting $6 billion. Again, you're coming back to the fact that you still think there's a crisis. If there is -- and I don't think so -- how do you justify giving back $6 billion of revenue at a time you claim there's a crisis?
Mr Meady: I'm not looking at defending the position of giving back $6 billion in regard to the employers' position, because I wasn't speaking in regard to that particular issue.
Mr Christopherson: But that's part and parcel of all this.
Mr Meady: It could be part and parcel, but I'll only comment on exactly what I've been speaking about myself. I'm not prepared to comment on something about the entire policy. I'm giving my comments in terms of what I think are the positive aspects of this act, what I think can be contributed in terms of changing policies in this act and how I think it could better enhance the system as a whole. In regard to the entire policy or the entire bill itself, I think that's best left between you and the people across the table from you.
Mr Christopherson: I would say you feel that way because you're on the winning side of this deal. There are real winners and real losers, and you're winning and they're losing.
Mr Hastings: Mr Meady, thank you for coming in. Maybe you could elucidate a little more. The 1995 annual report of the WCB clearly indicates, contrary to Mr Christopherson, who likes to leave misleading impressions or leave out half the story, that the unfunded liability is the difference between what would be owed if you had to pay up everything as of a certain midnight date, all outstanding obligations under the act to injured workers -- he talks about being very insulting. It's insulting to injured workers and rehabilitated workers that you get half the story. There's no crisis here, according to them.
According to the WCB report, if you look at the actual audited statement, the unfunded liability right now, as of 1995 -- it's down a little -- is $18.1 billion. The assets Mr Christopherson talks about are $8 billion. He alludes to that and attributes it to excellent management while they were in power, but again selectively ignores that part of the good management is the performance of the investment of that $8 billion in assets in US and Canadian equities and bonds.
The other side of the story is that $10.8 billion is owed. This is like a credit card arrangement. According to the previous regime, there's no problem if you owe the money.
Mr Christopherson: Who owes it?
Mr Hastings: The money is owed by everybody who is a consumer in this province, whether they're an employer, a chiropractor or what have you. What I would like to find out from you --
Mr Hastings: Do I have the floor or don't I?
The Chair: You have the floor, Mr Hastings.
Mr Hastings: Thank you, Madam Chair.
To say there is no crisis -- Mr Meady, I would like for you to put in human terms what it really means if we do not address this unfunded liability, so casually dismissed by the opposition as, "Oh, it hardly exists"; what it really means to people who could be injured in the future and people who are already receiving benefits, in terms of the financial sustenance of the whole damn program.
Mr Meady: Obviously, if the unfunded liability is the difference between the assets and what we have to pay out, if there is not enough money there if all the payouts had to be there -- it's simply if you have the debts and don't have the money to pay for it, due to the contributions thereof. Other than that, I don't know how to put it in layman's terms.
Mr Hastings: In other words, it would translate into jeopardizing --
Mr Meady: The entire program.
Mr Hastings: Future injured workers, rehabilitated and existing ones, right?
Mr Meady: Absolutely.
Mr Hastings: But they want to ignore that. That's why we have the problem.
The Chair: Time has expired. Mr Meady, thank you very much for taking the time to come before us this morning. We appreciate it.
THUNDER BAY AND DISTRICT INJURED WORKERS SUPPORT GROUP
The Chair: I'd like to now call upon representatives from the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group. I believe it's Mr Eugene Lefrançois. Sir, welcome.
Mr Eugene Lefrançois: There's something funny I heard this morning about the unfunded liability. The employers are all paying into pension plans. If all the employers had to put up all the money owed by the pensions -- this has nothing to do with the WCB; this is pension plans paid by the employer and the worker. They go into a big fund, like the secondary schools and all those big funds. Could the employer of all those pensions pay up tomorrow on all the money owing, predicted for how long their members are going to live? Can they do that right now? Do they have the money in the bank? I don't think so.
My name is Eugene Lefrançois, and I am a trustee for the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group. You've all got a copy of our presentation. I can sit here and read it all, but I don't want to do that. If it's all right with everybody, I would like to perform a role-playing skit. This will address all the issues we've heard today plus maybe bring in a few others. It is our time. Is it the Chair's thing that we could do this, have a role-playing skit?
The Chair: No, we're expecting a presentation.
Mr Lefrançois: This is the presentation.
The Chair: The problem is, it won't be picked up on Hansard. There will be no record.
Mr Lefrançois: It's for your benefit. It's not for the microphone; it's for your benefit. If you've got questions afterwards on what you pick up, please. These guys are pretty loud. You'll hear them.
The Chair: Will you be seated at the table?
Mr Lefrançois: I think they could be seated at the table, or we could do it right beside the microphones.
The Chair: It would be easier for us if you could sit down; we could hear it a little better.
Mr Lefrançois: Okay. Can you light up all three mikes?
The Chair: Yes.
Mr Lefrançois: Okay, guys, we're on.
Our president couldn't be here today. He had a stroke this spring -- he is 43 years old -- and he's working 12 hours a day doing something that's going to kill him. Why is he doing that? Because the WCB does not pay enough.
I can tell you that at the beginning of this year my pension went up 65 cents. Last month's cheque went down $60. Something's wrong. I'm serious. You guys are all getting paid good money. I've got a family of four dependants, plus myself. I get $595 a month. I am one of the people Steve talked about, the 70% of people who are not going to work. I am one of them. You are seeing someone who has not gone back to work since he got injured, properly making his money.
The skit will be about an injured worker under the proposed Bill 99, how we see it's going to happen. When the last bill went through we did skits, and we pretty well hit it on the head, 99%.
Mr Muntz: This is really heavy.
The Employer: Come on, get that over here. What's the matter with you?
Mr Muntz: I hurt my back.
The Employer: Oh, hurt your back. Come on. Pick it up. What's the matter with you?
Mr Muntz: I'm hurt.
The Employer: You're going to cost me money now. How many times have I told you in the past? Now I'm going to have to call the KGB and tell them to get over here, that I've got another accident.
KGB Services: Hello?
Mr Employer: We've got another one.
KGB Services: It's going to cost you money. You're in trouble. I'll come over, but you've got to pay me.
The Employer: [To Mr Muntz] You see what you've caused me now? You see what you do? How many times do I have to tell you that you've got to be careful when you work? My God, what am I going to do? Now look at the money I'm paying. I have compensation insurance, but what am I going to do?
KBG Services: You've got to buy insurance too.
The Employer: This guy just keeps taking my money. It's coming off all the employees. You realize that.
Mr Muntz: I asked you to accommodate the job.
The Employer: Accommodate? I've accommodated you so many times. You see what's going on here now? Look at the money I have left. This is what compensation does to you.
KGB Services: One client; I've got another one in half an hour.
The Employer: You see that? Being an employer, that's what I have to go through. Every day it's the same thing.
KGB Services: You know you have to give him those forms, but remember, he has to bring them back to you. If he doesn't fill them out right, don't send them in, because he didn't do his job right. Remember, he's got to fill the box in just at the right spot.
Mr Lefrançois: That was scene 1. That was the initial injury and what we see what some employers will do to their workers. They will abuse them. They will not give them the forms. They will say, "You're slacking, you're malingering, you're just doing this because you want to have a vacation."
We can see this is going to happen and is going to be a problem. I think it's going to be a problem for everybody, not just the worker but also the employer. If you noticed, that employer had a big stack of cash before he started, but when he had to hire the guy to do his services, it came down; he only had one bill left. Employers, this is going to happen.
Scene 2 is when a WCB-appointed doctor named Dr Ross -- the injured worker's name is Mr Muntz, and he will give Dr Ross a thing of medical intervention. This is what we see medical intervention is going to look like.
Dr Ross: Hello, Mr Muntz. My name is Dr Ross. I've come to talk to you about your opportunities and exactly what we're going to do with you under the new Bill 99, WCB act.
Mr Muntz: I definitely need your help, doctor.
Dr Ross: And we're here to give it to you. You have to learn to trust us, because our interests are for the board and for the employers, and you fall right into that category somewhere.
Madge Crabitz: We spend tax money doing this, you know. We spend tax money and you guys are just soaking it up. You're a bunch of fakes.
Dr Ross: Under Bill 99, there's medical intervention, when we can save money for the board and for the employers. It's very exciting. You're going to be very happy with this, trust me. There's only a 10% chance of success, so the odds are very good that you're going to be all right. We should have you back to work in six months. We're going to have you off benefits in six months regardless, because obviously my job is to save the board and the employers money, but we're looking after your best interests. Trust me on this.
Mr Muntz: You said 10% success. That was 10% failure, right? You made a mistake, did you?
Dr Ross: No, no. It's 10% success, but you've got to understand, I have to save the board and the employers money. There is no other way around it. You could get a second opinion if you don't trust my opinion, although I come very highly recommended.
Mr Muntz: I'm going to.
Dr Ross: Well, that's not a problem. I have a roster of doctors here who are all approved by the WCB. I've interviewed them all, and they will always just parrot what I say.
Mr Muntz: What does my future hold for me, Dr Ross?
Dr Ross: As I say, you're going to be off benefits and you're going to be out of the board's hair in six months. It's going to be great.
Mr Muntz: I'll be back to work?
Dr Ross: No problem at all. Just before I came in, in the hall you gave me your medical file. That thing's too bulky to read. I had your medical file some place. It's quite an extensive one. Just a minute; I'll dig it out. There it is, everything that I need to know about you. I see you're missing a limb. You know, this could have had something to do with your back injury. When you ripped your arm off, you obviously caused this injury to happen. The only way you're going to be successful is to take the operation, hell or high water. Thank you very much.
Mr Lefrançois: The next scene of this skit is that the operation -- that 10%? Well, it was not a success. An injured worker advocate now comes in on behalf of the injured worker. He works with the injured worker. By the way, the injured worker advocate is from our group, just to give him a plug. You know something? This next character reminds me of a woman called Evelyn Dodds. If anybody knows her, she really reminds me of Evelyn Dodds.
Madge Crabitz: I know this guy. I've seen him working hard. I'd like you to see the pictures I've got of this guy.
Mr Lefrançois: The next scene we move into is that the worker advocate will come in with the injured worker.
Injured Worker Advocate: I've got your file here. I see that the operation was not a success.
Mr Muntz: You can say that again.
Injured Worker Advocate: I've heard that you're a triparaplegic now.
Mr Muntz: I used to have three limbs. Now, none of them work.
Injured Worker Advocate: Now I have some more bad news for you. As your family has split up, you've lost your house. The WCB has been sending your letters to the wrong address, your hearings have been bypassed, and now we're going to have to arrange with Dr Ross to talk about an appeal at WCAT.
Mr Muntz: Not Dr Ross again.
Injured Worker Advocate: Yes, I'm afraid so, Dr Ross.
Mr Muntz: Please, can't you stay with me and help me?
Injured Worker Advocate: Yes, I will.
Dr Ross: Hello, I'm Dr Ross. And you are?
Injured Worker Advocate: I'm Ken Smith.
Dr Ross: Glad to meet you, Ken. Glad to see that you're recovering so well, Mr Muntz. Just let me get a chair over here so we can be all friendly-like. Why did you call me in? I don't really understand, but I'm here to help. That's my sole interest in this.
Injured Worker Advocate: This man's hearings have been bypassed because the board has been sending the letters to the wrong address.
Dr Ross: Ah, but they were sending the letters. You must give them credit for that.
Injured Worker Advocate: We would like to talk to you about bringing this to WCAT on an appeal.
Dr Ross: Not a problem. We've got a wonderful appeal system under Bill 99. It's going to work out really well. You put your appeal in, and no matter what they say, we'll deny it. That's the way the system works now. They only have to follow policy, and I set policy.
Injured Worker Advocate: Well, I see we will then have to proceed and get together a class action and go to the Supreme Court with it.
Dr Ross: Well, you have to do what you have to do.
Mr Muntz: Let's get that Dr Ross.
Injured Worker Advocate: We will.
Mr Lefrançois: That was how we perceived it will work. We really hope we do not have to do this. But we can only decide that it's going to have to go to this. You guys have left us absolutely no choice.
By the way, have you got the number for the snitch line?
The Chair: Are you finished with your presentation? Are you ready to go to question period?
Mr Lefrançois: No, I've got one more part of the presentation.
The Chair: Why don't you finish your presentation first.
Mr Lefrançois: The whole WCB system is based on the Meredith report. All through Bill 99 you have changed the word "compensation" to "insurance." I pay auto insurance, home insurance, fire insurance. If I pay that insurance and don't use it, no accidents or anything, it would be nice if the insurance company would give me money back. I really would like that. Probably everybody in this room would like that, that if they don't have an accident they get a rebate on their auto insurance. Of course that doesn't happen, but for some reason, the WCB gives employers money back if they don't have an accident. Domtar, for instance -- we know this is a fact -- has injured workers counting pencils, counting maps, colouring maps, just so they don't lose the rebate. This is cruel. This is unfair. This is your Bill 99.
Right now, Bill 99 is just a thought in somebody's head. The WCB right now is using policy from Bill 99. They're implementing it now. That's illegal. Given that that's illegal, will the next scene's players come up, please? As a little preamble to the scene, here's what happened. The Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group filed a class action lawsuit against the MPPs, the current government and every person who supported this bill. We filed against everybody. I'll leave you their decision.
Judge 1: A just compensation law ought to provide that the compensation should continue to be paid as long as the disability caused by the accident lasts, and the amount of compensation should have relation to the earning power of the injured worker.
Judge 2: Employers will be held personally liable for murdering their workers, and employers who have only injured their workers will face charges of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. Also, until this WCB legislation is changed, workers who get injured on the job will be able to sue their accident employers regardless of who is at fault, retroactively since the current government got elected.
Judge 1: It is the decision, by a unanimous vote, that this session of the Supreme Court render in favour of Mr Muntz and all injured workers, past, present and future. All injured workers have complete compensation coverage such as they have had in the past or can fall back on the right to sue the employer. This session of the Supreme Court is now adjourned.
Mr Lefrançois: In a nutshell, that's how we see the proposed Bill 99 will work for the injured workers and what you are going to force all of us advocates to go after. We have tried talking to you. We have tried pleading with you. You have taken away all the rules. You have changed all the rules. It's not fair for any one of us. Employers don't like this bill. Workers don't like this bill. If you talk to anybody out there in the social field -- it doesn't have to be labour -- they do not like this bill. It's like the bill where you killed welfare. For most workers injured under Bill 99, you can guarantee they're going to be on welfare in roughly -- the max we could see is 18 months from initial injury. They're going to be on welfare if they cannot go back to work.
Any questions? Do you want the names of all the players?
The Chair: That would be useful. There actually isn't time for questions, but if you'd like to read out the names of the participants, that would be helpful.
Mr Lefrançois: Ross Singleton played Dr Ross; Bonnie Cameron played the judge; Dale Gorrell played the employer; Robert Guillet played a judge; Ken Kawchuk played a judge; Steve Mantis played Mr Muntz; Eugene Lefrançois is me; Francis Bell played KGB Enterprises; and Muriel Poster played Madge Crabitz, also known as Evelyn Dodds.
The Chair: The time has expired. Thank you very much.
The Chair: I now call Mr Singleton to come forward for a presentation.
Mr Ross Singleton: Actually, it would be a hell of a lot better if I could be Dr Ross and assess all of you, and then we'd really have something to talk about on Bill 99, but I don't think you're going to give me that opportunity.
I don't have anything particularly prepared. I have some notes. I'll probably be all over the place.
Mr Hastings: You wouldn't make a very good doctor.
Mr Singleton: I wouldn't, eh? That was interesting. Of course, we know which side of the table you're sitting on.
My name is Ross Singleton. I'm here as an injured worker. I am a member of the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group. I am a member of the Ontario network as a vice-president, but I am here as an injured worker. I've got to ask you, why are we here? We're obviously not here to listen to injured workers, because it doesn't make a bit of difference to most of the people sitting around the table. We don't want to listen to the injured workers pushing the agenda of big business and the insurance industry. The new name obviously gives you that tie-in there. We're not here to pursue health and safety. We had the Occupational Health and Safety Act, but that's been all changed.
So why are we really here? It appears to me that we're just here to go through the motions, to say this is a democratic process and everybody had a chance to say something, but I've got one word for that and, excuse me, it's bullshit.
Cam Jackson came to Thunder Bay a few years ago. His first agenda I think clearly indicates the direction they want to see WCB go in in Ontario.
Perhaps the so-called crisis created by the government has given rise that there have to be changes to the WCB, but obviously, from where I'm sitting, some of that may or may not be truthful or factual. It's clear that the report from Cam Jackson that was left over from the old PLMAC committee started under the NDP has finally triumphed. The board's been restructured, rebates are up to employers, assessments are down to employers, benefits are down to injured workers, and heaven help us, the unfunded liability is certainly under control. It doesn't matter how many billions they have in assets, it's obviously out of control.
Cam Jackson, though, was probably a lot like some of the people sitting at this table: little knowledge but good intentions. He was at this hearing in Thunder Bay a number of years back and he came out with a statement that he knew what an injury was about. He's sitting at a table with injured worker representatives from various factions in northwestern Ontario, not just from Thunder Bay. He had an "injury." One of the points in the Jackson report, and of course it's been watered down a little bit but still there, is the soft-tissue injury. Oh, Cam had got an injury. He was one of the boys or girls sitting at the table. He got it playing squash -- playing, not working. He got it playing squash and he sits there in front of a police officer who got shot in the line of duty, who has to blow through a tube to manipulate his wheelchair, and says, "I understand what an injury is all about." Again, bullshit.
You people do not understand what it's like to have an injury in a workplace. If you're fortunate enough to come from a working class background and worked in your life, you may have an understanding, but some of you have forgot, terribly forgot what it's like. You have no idea of the stress and what happens to families once you have a permanent injury that will not go away. A soft-tissue injury playing squash, yes, good, a couple of weeks and I'm better. Twenty years wearing a back brace doesn't make it any better. Every morning I get up, take two pills and go to work, and I'm fortunate because I am one of the very few who got back to work. I have a tendency to feel that perhaps my words are falling on deaf ears.
I've got a question. The skit kind of related to it. How long is it going to be before injured workers are going to have to get tattoos, where we go around and have to be part of experimental operations under the guise of saving the board or saving employers money? It's happening. This happened back in the Second World War. Certainly not to imply that the good members of Ontario have anything to do with the National Socialist Party out of Germany, but I tell you, when you are going to introduce legislation that allows the board to save money to do surgery that could be "experimental," I'm waiting to get my tattoo put on my arm so I'll be able to be identified very easily.
How long is it going to be before injured workers are classed as criminals, where we have it on our permanent record, where we go to our social insurance number and find that, lo and behold, I'm an injured worker and I can't get credit, I can't do this, because I've sucked money out of some fallible or fallacy type of arrangement that we have to be in?
Injured workers aren't the problem. I've been a member of the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group since 1985 or 1986. I got hurt back in the 1970s. Bill 99 is not going to solve the problem. What it will do is turn Ontario into the 51st state, as we go down the road to privatization. It's being pushed clearly by the insurance industry's interest.
Cam Jackson was clear on that. He didn't like it when I told him that I'm sick and tired -- and I am, and I say it to you people -- of being told by an industry what is wrong with the bloody system and they don't pay into it. They have no right to be at the table. Yet now what do we call compensation in Ontario? Insurance. I wonder why. Talk about having the cart before the horse.
We told the Liberals when they passed Bill 162 back in 1990, NELs and FELs aren't the answer. Rehabilitation is the answer. Get people back to work. If you'd quit worrying about the God-damned dimes, the dollars will take care of themselves. Get people back to work. People are productive.
We told them then it wouldn't work. I tell you now, Bill 99's not going to work. That's why since 1990 we have had, as was mentioned before by other speakers, almost a 70%-plus unemployment rate with injured workers who have a permanent disability. Bill 99 will only work for the insurance industry and big employers, but will cause financial hardship to small businesses. Consultants will become rich. Small businesses will pay. The taxpayers will pick up the difference, providing that the poor injured worker can get on welfare to cover the difference.
Bill 99 was not written to help injured workers and employers, but to pave the road to privatization. The principles of compensation haven't changed very much. I'd like to just read -- if I can find it of course. This is from the original act. This is what compensation is supposed to be. This is what you people are changing. "An Act to provide for Compensation to Workmen" -- unfortunately this was written in 1914, so bear with the inadequacies of the female gender -- "for Injuries sustained in Industrial Diseases contracted in the course of their Employment." It's a very simple definition.
I'd also like to read to you from a little thing. This is a first aid regulation dated April 1962, one of these things that just falls into people's hands, it was in some chest someplace, and I quote: "The Workmen's Compensation Board: that the administration of the act should always be in keeping with the motto, 'Justice humanely and speedily rendered.'" Bill 99 totally destroys that concept. If it was good enough in 1962, sure things change economically, but principles do not change.
Short-term thinking has bent the principles to the point of being back before the act was introduced by Meredith in 1914. Ontario is indeed open for business, but what I'm doing is urging all workers to take it easy -- hide it, dog it. I could use other words. Milk the sick time system. Do anything but get bloody hurt in Ontario because if you get hurt, you're not going to be adequately protected any more.
The skit touched base on it, and this is only my opinion, not the opinion of the group. It is the opinion of Ross Singleton only, so be very clear on that. I can only hope and dream that legal action will be taken to tie up the board's assets, as they are mine and other injured workers'. They are not the board's, the insurance industry's or the government's.
You're going to hear many speak out on the bill, some for, some against. Injured workers for a long time have stressed that we are not part of the problem, we are part of the solution. It's always fallen on deaf ears. We've approached a number of businesses in Thunder Bay, the chamber of commerce, but all we got was what I call the "yeah, yeah" answers, all talk, no action. Remember that when you hear from some of these people this afternoon. We went to the table. We went to discuss. We understand there's a crisis. We understand what needs to be done to protect injured workers, to ensure that employers can have enough money to keep in business so that we can be competitive in the world marketplace. What do we get? Thanks, but no thanks. That's Thunder Bay. I guess the government's going to go on with the hearings. We'll say we heard from everybody, but thanks, but no thanks.
One of the things that concerns me the most is that under the way the system works, old act, pre-1990 injured workers have had enough. Back then we never got the rehabilitation. Where were you people then? What we got was bought off, given permanent pensions. Now suddenly it would appear that we seem to be the problem. People 50 years old, people part of the baby boom. Demographics have not been studied at all in this legislation. The unfunded liability seems to be driven by the baby-boomers, by those injured workers who were hurt before 1990, with their permanent pensions. Maybe it's been just too bad that people don't say that out, but that's what the bottom line is. I've been around enough; I've moved with the people who obviously sit in opposition to some of the people who sit at this table. We know what's going on there; we know what's being said.
It's my opinion that if you're going to continue to bastardize the compensation system as it was first set out by Meredith, you had better start thinking of two things: (1) legal action; (2) getting rid of the older workers by buying them out, and not at some reduced debit table, fancy sleight of hand, but at a reasonable and fair settlement.
Mr Christopherson: Mr Singleton, that's an excellent presentation. Thank you for all the compassion you bring to this. I certainly don't want to appear trite, but you may have missed your calling. You're a great actor too. I thought you did a superb job there, and I think enough people feel that way that I'm safe in mentioning that in my response to your comments.
I'm going to tie what you said with the skit, because that seems to have been your intent, to take the messages that came out of the skit and try and translate them into a presentation. I can only hope the government members are beginning to understand that two things are happening in these hearings. One is we're having presentations where we're getting detailed analysis of the impact on injured workers, detail by detail. Then in other presentations, as we saw with this skit, we're getting the overall impact on how this is going to affect workers' lives and how it scares the hell out of them in terms of what the future holds.
At the end of the day, there's just no way this government will be able to justify it. Each of you as a member of this Legislature is not going to be able to go back to your constituencies and justify what you're doing to injured workers. I can only hope that somehow at the end of these hearings, as limited as they are, you understand that, that you can't go across the province attacking injured workers like we have here in Thunder Bay and in Sudbury and all the other communities we're going to and expect that people aren't going to retaliate.
I want to mention --
The Chair: Mr Christopherson, there's about 30 seconds left. Very briefly, please.
Mr Christopherson: There's never enough time. I want to thank -- this is my one opportunity because there wasn't one after the skit -- all those who presented in the skit. I'm glad, Chair, that you allowed it, because it's important that we have different kinds of presentations, that they be allowed. That's the kind of stuff that matters. We've got to get the message out about what this is going to do to injured workers. God help any able-bodied workers who think this doesn't matter to them, because they, as you often say, are one injury and one day away from being an injured worker themselves, and they need to pay attention to this issue.
Mr Maves: Thank you for your presentation. You were discussing Mr Jackson's visit up to Thunder Bay with injured workers.
Mr Singleton: Could you speak up, please? I can't hear you.
Mr Maves: Sure. You talked briefly in your remarks about a lot of things. I only have time to touch on one. You talked about health care and surgeries, and I just wanted to point out that's a redraft of what exists in the current bill.
You expressed concern about employers paying premiums they owe. You said you went to see the chamber of commerce and said, "We understand there's a crisis, we understand the need to be competitive," and so on and so forth. Going back to collecting what employers owe, I wonder how you feel about the new powers given to the board to better collect owed premiums.
Mr Singleton: I guess this comes as what seems to be the crisis that is developing about the interpretation of what people say, because I did not talk about that. However, to address your point, the powers you've got don't mean shit because they're still running $200-million-plus a year back that they write off.
Mr Maves: That's because they're new powers starting in --
Mr Singleton: Your powers haven't done anything.
Mr Maves: That's because they're not enacted yet.
Mr Singleton: The point is, you've been in power. You wanted to do something to change the board. Don't come here in front of me now and say, "We've got all wonderful new powers to do it." You could have done that before. These are people who do not pay their responsibility. They take it out so I've got to wear a bloody brace for 20 years, and then you have the audacity to say, "We've got sweeping new powers, we're going to do that." You could have done that with the stroke of a pen in June.
Mr Maves: It's in Bill 99. I just wondered if you had --
Mr Singleton: Well, it was Bill 13 before that. Why wasn't it addressed in there?
Mr Maves: We increased the fines from 25 grand to 100 grand in --
Mr Singleton: You also increased fines to injured workers -- material change.
Mr Maves: Employers have to report material change too.
Mr Singleton: I'm sorry?
Mr Maves: Employers have to report material change.
Mr Singleton: Unfortunately, at least with the people I run, we don't see employers getting dinged, we see injured workers getting dinged.
Mr Maves: I guess previous governments could have made the same adjustments that you wish us to make now, which we are making in 1999.
Mr Singleton: Don't misconstrue anything I said. Although I may have political support on some things, when it comes to WCB, they've all screwed up royally.
Mr Maves: So you don't have any opinion on the changes on collecting debts?
Mr Singleton: I cannot hear you. I know I'm speaking clearly.
Mr Maves: You have no opinion on the new powers given to the WCB to collect premiums?
Mr Singleton: In a sense, when I see some action, I will give you an opinion, but words mean nothing.
Mr Maves: Great, thank you.
Mr Gravelle: Thanks very much, Ross, for that presentation. It was very passionate. I think the whole morning has been really extraordinary in terms of the energy of all the presentations. The skits were great. It's a great way to portray what people fear is happening.
You hit the nail on the head in so many ways. The part that has bothered me from the very beginning, and I know it's bothered you, is this whole false process of consultation. I remember when Cam Jackson was here, and I can't remember whether it was a year ago or whatever, and I remember that the injured workers organized an evening meeting, a public meeting, which he would not attend. What he would do is he would only sit down in a room with three or four -- Ross, you were there and I don't know who else was there, and he wouldn't do it. The truth is that if real consultation was taking place -- and I guess that's what bothers me the most about this government. They will say, "We've consulted." They'll say, "Here's what we're going to do and then we'll consult." It's a classic pattern. Because if they really were consulted, the Occupational Disease Panel wouldn't be eliminated, if there was real consultation, because then they would learn it was wrong. WCAT wouldn't be turned into something that no longer has any real effect, and as Dr Ross you made that point very well.
I really do think that the biggest flaw in the system is that this is something they want to do, consultation is not real, and yet they want to still walk out the door and say they've consulted. I think that is what makes this the biggest farce of all. Anyway, thanks very much.
The Chair: With that, we'll recess. We appreciate your taking the time to come before us today. We'll reconvene at 1:30 in this room.
The committee recessed from 1207 to 1333.
DISABLED WORKERS' COMPLEX CASE NETWORK
The Chair: Good afternoon, everyone. Our first presenters this afternoon are representing the Disabled Workers' Complex Case Network, Mr Sanderson. Would you like to introduce your colleague, please. Welcome.
Mr Darrell Sanderson: I'm Mr Sanderson with the Disabled Workers' Complex Case Network. With me I have Mr Ron Ross, who does disabled consulting in Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario.
Before I begin, please bear with me. I'm chewing gum. I have a cold, so it's difficult for me to speak.
I sat through the proceedings this morning. Some items were mentioned that are quite obviously of large concern to injured workers in all communities. There is the case of the unfunded liability and some of the concerns Mr Hastings expressed about that. I would just like this particular committee to know that I too have a large unfunded liability as I live each and every day in this community and wend my way through life. I think it's important to note that essentially my income is basically half of what I would be earning today if I were still in the employ of my employer.
I guess I have to say I support the injured workers in terms of the unfunded liability, the issue of assets. To me it's not a big issue; it's just a big smokescreen in regard to why this system needs reform.
This system needs to be looked at. Legislators need to take a hard look at it and get the political will to make changes that are going to be beneficial to all.
With that, I'll proceed. I've provided some material as best I could. I know you are looking for 30 copies. I make reference to my organization's submissions to the Royal Commission on Workers' Compensation in 1995. I also make reference to a number of documents I have here that individual members are not all privy to. Most certainly they are available and you can make copies if you wish. Much of the communiqué is in regard to communication between my organization and the complex case unit, injuries and disease, which some of you may know is now located out at Downsview, Ontario. They have now chosen to add some wording in terms of title. They call it the special injuries program.
With that, I'm going to turn to the document I know all members do have. It's the presentation to the standing committee on resources development by my organization. I'll start with the introduction.
I thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to speak this afternoon on behalf of the Disabled Workers' Complex Case Network, DWCCN, on issues concerning a specific segment of injured workers, more specifically, severely disabled workers with special needs. In order to use this opportunity and time efficiently, I won't be going into a great deal of history regarding our organization.
Our organization's history is documented in our previous submissions to the Royal Commission on Workers' Compensation and dated April 1995. The submission is also available within the Workers' Compensation Board library, as is a former submission we made to the Chairman's Task Force on Service Delivery and Vocational Rehabilitation in 1992.
Both presentations covered many compensation issues and I encourage your reading of the materials that were submitted to the royal commission in 1995 as I do not intend to repeat myself regarding those issues. As a small gesture and because of limited funding, I can provide you with five copies that I have here with me and I trust that you will make the required copies for your members. Also, I'm sure we can get you more copies on a fee-for-service basis.
The Disabled Workers' Complex Case Network actively identifies issues that affect permanently impaired workers with special needs. The makeup of injured workers receiving specialized rehabilitation services throughout Ontario consists of spinal cord injuries, paraplegics, quadriplegics, major amputations, multiple injuries, industrial blindness, severe head injuries, haemaplegics, severe burns, psycho-traumatic psychiatric disabilities and complex disability claims.
In Ontario the WCB estimates, in 1992 figures, that there is a total of 2,018 100% pensioners, plus 156 residing in other provinces and 62 residing in other countries, for a total of 2,236. The complex case unit, injuries and disease section, previously located at 2 Bloor is now located in Downsview and operates the special injuries program which provides specialized services to people with severe injuries. Because the CCUID also provides specialized services to individuals with permanent impairment awards that are rated at less than 100%, the overall number of clientele that the CCUID provides specialized services to is assumed to be much greater than the aggregate amount of 2,236 clientele.
According to the CCUID, there are approximately 200 plus permanently impaired consumers being provided and/or entitled to specialized services in the Thunder Bay region, which stretches from Blind River near Sault Ste Marie to the Manitoba border. DWCCN's membership base consists primarily of permanently disabled consumers in Thunder Bay and throughout northwestern Ontario.
While I know this committee will be hearing from a number of interested parties relative to Bill 99, I only wish to acknowledge a couple of concerns at this time regarding that bill.
First, subsection 34(1), part IV, "Health Care," speaks to the duty to cooperate. It states, "A worker who claims benefits under the insurance plan shall cooperate in such health care measures as the board considers appropriate."
Subsection 34(2) talks about the failure to comply with subsection (1) and the possible reduction or suspension of payments to the worker under the insurance plan while the non-compliance continues.
Our organization is concerned that this may mean people with very serious injuries may be coerced into treatments they believe detrimental to their health. What protection will be available to someone who has already suffered a serious workplace injury and does not wish further medical intervention? Will subsection 34(1) also apply to old claims prior to Bill 99? We believe these questions should be given due consideration so that people are not forced into accepting medical treatment against their wishes.
Second, Bill 99 is a complete rewrite and yet maintains the dual award system as conceived and contemplated by Professor Weiler and as implemented over the past decade. Unfortunately, this means the deeming aspect of the present workers' compensation legislation is continued and in effect for all those suffering a workplace injury and residual impairment. For people with severe disability, and in fact for all injured workers, the deeming aspect is repugnant as it really does not take into account the realities and barriers regarding rehabilitation, socioeconomic and daily independent living.
There is great potential for administrators to abuse the deeming process when dealing with the most marginalized within the workers' compensation system. Severely disabled workers who receive substantial NELs for pain and suffering are using these moneys to pay for their own disabilities. It adds insult to injury for these particular workers having to use those moneys that are for pain and suffering to pay for the needs of their disability.
Severely disabled who are now within the system are telling us of the pressures placed upon them, knowing that at the end of any rehabilitative process is deeming. Once these workers finish school there will no doubt be provision for a short-term job search. However, at the end of the day we expect to see the seriously disabled become a casualty of the deeming process and all that it entails. This means they will have an education but no job. How will the system take into account the many socioeconomic problems regarding people with severe disabilities and the reality of the economy and job market? Will the severely disabled be applying for welfare when in fact they need a hand up and not a handout?
Our organization reiterates its tenet that some form of lifetime pension should be reconstituted within the system. Previous legislative changes in regard to reducing workers' compensation benefits by CPP disability have only served to jeopardize the financial wellbeing of the severely disabled.
The workers' compensation system has never accounted for the additional costs of living with a disability, yet the system continues to find ways to implement cost-saving legislation and policies without really consulting with the people those changes will affect the most. Do we really need Bill 99, which is more like a wage replacement program than anything else? Is it really this government's intent to surreptitiously transfer costs associated with workers' compensation to the private sector and the insurance industry?
It is utterly amazing that Bill 99 will do away with soft-tissue injuries such as carpal tunnel when in fact the present system already provides entitlement to some injured workers for the very same thing. How can the board now say that repetitive type injuries are no longer covered or even debilitating to some individuals?
However, I digress. I wish to take your attention away from Bill 99 and ask what your government will do to bring in a legislative act that will address the issues of people with severe disabilities. What will your government do to help assist workers with the problems associated with the complex case unit special injury program? Our organization believes that government legislators are sheltered from the realities of the legislation they enact. Participation by legislators in standing resource committees is but a small part in reaching the average person and trying to understand what the average person's needs are. But then again we severely disabled are not average, are we? Severely disabled workers are injured workers with special needs. That I suppose is why we have a special injury program at the WCB.
We are enclosing a number of pieces of communication, five copies each, containing several letters. These pieces of communication are between our organization and the complex case unit managers and administrators. Our organization has been seeking a partnership with the WCB in regard to people with severe disabilities who are clients or consumers of the WCB system. Part of the enclosed documentation includes our proposal to the board for partnership. Our proposal is based upon the real merits a formal partnership has to offer: accountability and responsibility.
We respectfully ask that you review the enclosed documentation as it will give you a good idea as to the ongoing problems within the special injury program. We respectfully seek to resolve many of the serious problems that have developed regarding benefit and service provision to the seriously disabled community of injured workers.
For whatever reason, the special injury program is not meeting our needs. Entitlement and service issues are becoming a grave concern. Over time we have learned that if the injured worker does not ask for a specific benefit or service, then the injured worker does not receive the entitlements to the benefits or services as guided by legislation and board policy.
This means that most educated consumers will receive benefits and services they are entitled to while others less educated, such as the newly injured, have to fend for themselves in figuring out their entitlements. Methods used by the complex case unit in granting and providing entitlements and services to the severely disabled are no longer acceptable. We refer to their tactics as "gatekeeping" and "non-disclosure".
Service provision to the seriously injured worker is provided by special needs consultants who are front-line workers. The WCB has once again centralized this service in southern Ontario and thus flies in a worker to service our needs. Our organization can cite situation upon situation where special needs consultants do not inform workers of their entitlements and benefits. Severely disabled consumers normally learn of specific entitlements by talking to their peers and others who are educated regarding the complex case unit.
If the special needs consultant and complex case unit is not responsible to educate the injured worker by openly informing them of their choices and options, and if the SNC is not there to help the injured worker prepare and obtain what is needed for that injured worker, then what is the purpose of having a special needs consultant and complex case unit? Why is it that what is said and put forth by the special needs consultant and the board is always one that provides for a bare minimum, instead of providing for a fair standard or provision in terms or benefits and services?
What are the criteria, guidelines and policies of the complex case unit in determining accessibility entitlements in situations where home and property have to be made wheelchair accessible? Why are injured workers being denied paving in the yard, concrete sidewalks for mobility, denied putting in windows, accessible cabinets in kitchens, changing the flooring materials etc? The list is endless. Why is the process by the special needs consultant a makeshift, piecemeal approach that disrupts and creates undue hardship and lengthy time delays in the provision of benefits and services?
We have not yet seen a front-line SNC worker conduct a formalized assessment of a severely injured worker's home. We have not yet seen a SNC conduct a written assessment with a newly injured worker on his or her vehicle and then provide vendors or suppliers with the detailed specifications to tender or quote on. What does a newly severely injured worker know about community resources at the onset of their injury?
Chronic injured workers are subjected to the same, ongoing treatment by the SNC, even though the workers have had some life experience regarding their severe disability and are now able to make wise choices and decisions relevant to their disability. If it is not the job of the special needs consultant to facilitate timely and effective provision of services and benefits, will the WCB complex case unit fund the worker to purchase service from locally based external professionals to facilitate the service in a timely and fair manner?
Our organization has witnessed situation upon situation where workers with severe disabilities are experiencing long delays in accessing needed home modifications, vehicle conversions and other types of benefits and services. In some cases, severely disabled workers are kept in high-priced acute care hospitals or rehabilitation facilities for extended periods because the complex case unit will not provide for temporary measures to facilitate discharge back to the injured worker's home or other accessible rental housing.
It is not very appropriate, in fact it could be considered negligent, on the part of the WCB to delay processes for long periods of time, which result in the injured worker being restricted and confined within their homes because accessibility is not provided.
We can cite instances where injured workers have had to bum their way up and down stairs to get into their home; other instances where they are confined to one or two rooms within the main floor area without an accessible bathroom, kitchen, bedroom or other amenities to accommodate their disability.
If you will, imagine yourself being a severely disabled worker who has purchased a first-time home in the month of December, then imagine making a request to the WCB for the provision of accessibility to get in and out of your home; further imagine being told by the special needs consultant that you will have to wait for the spring thaw and the frost to leave the ground before accessibility can be provided. Now imagine the ensuing winter months as you bum your way up a flight of stairs covered with snow and ice. Please think about how you would feel. There is nothing dignified, safe or healthy about this scenario.
The board should be ashamed, yet it is their practice. Why is the board not prepared to do whatever it takes to facilitate temporary access as a short-term objective with permanent access as the long-term goal?
Severely disabled workers also experience similar problems with health care adjudicators when requesting health care products and services. I will not go into them here, but suffice it to say you will find mention of these in our submission to the royal commission and other documentation that we provide for you here today. Again, we respectfully ask that you review the materials to get a better picture of some of the problems associated with the CCUID and severely disabled workers.
I would now like to turn your attention to an ongoing problem that is quite serious in nature and apparently quite political. It involves the use of a specific type of gas tank on vehicle retrofits that were provided to some severely disabled workers by the board. I can you that I know of three in northwestern Ontario and I don't fully know the extent of the problem in the rest of the province.
The Chair: Excuse me, if I can just interrupt. You just have a minute left to finish.
Mr Sanderson: I have about a page and a half. Thank you. It involves the use of a specific type of gas tank on vehicle retrofits that were provided to some severely disabled workers by the board. Our understanding is that some vehicles were retrofitted with Transfer Flow gas tanks that do not meet CMVS specifications set by Transport Canada. These tanks were imported from the United States and are installed behind the differential of the vans. The WCB has advised that Transport Canada considers vehicles equipped with these tanks as unsafe and, in fact, illegal.
The reasoning is that they do not meet standards and have never been crash-tested. Additionally, the door locks on some barn-door-style vans have also become an issue with Transport Canada. There is some indication that vehicles without locking mechanisms on the barn-style doors may also contravene the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. Further to this, it is our understanding that Transport Canada has also made note that the door locks are now an issue.
WCB has acknowledged the problem and has indicated to us that they will resolve the problems on our behalf. However, the issues regarding this type of retrofit have been ongoing since 1994 with no resolve. High-level administrative meetings were held with manufacturers regarding these retrofitted vehicles and, as a result, the WCB indicated that they would assist in resolving the problem with the gas tanks.
Only recently did we learn through a front-line special needs consultant that a replacement tank is not available. It was further indicated by the SNC that the board has been advised that the manufacturer of the purported replacement tank is not manufacturing a replacement tank at all. Thus, there seems to be no resolve to this problem.
The Chair: Excuse me. Can you wrap it up?
Mr Sanderson: I've got a page.
The Chair: I'm not intending to --
Mr Sanderson: Okay. Our question is this: What will the board and/or this government do to resolve this problem for seriously disabled workers who are transporting their spouses and young families in these vehicles so equipped with the compromised gas tanks? Their wellbeing and lives are in danger each and every day as are the lives of others that may potentially rear-end a vehicle so equipped with this type of gas tank.
I could go on. Another issue is guide dogs. Why does the board ask charities to buy guide dogs for the blind, yet they pay for the veterinary supplies etc? Why not let the charities give to the charity that is needed? I will say this in summing up: Injured workers are not charities. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. It's not to diminish anything that you wanted to present to the committee. It's just that in the interests of fairness, we try to keep our times close so that everyone has a fair amount of time to present. Thank you very much. We appreciate your taking the time to bring your material forward. I know when the clerk has copies for us, we will read it carefully.
Mr O'Toole: I would like to reassure the gentleman that I will be requesting that the committee look into that gas tank situation. I appreciate your presentation.
Mr Sanderson: There's some material that I'll leave here just in case you don't have a copy.
THUNDER BAY AND DISTRICT INJURED WORKERS SUPPORT GROUP
The Chair: Next is Muriel Poster, representing the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group.
Mrs Muriel Poster: My area of interest is survivors' issues and my presentation is too short to be a brief. I started this letter when I didn't have standing, so I've modified it somewhat and I'm very glad to be able to present it to you here personally.
I'm a widow and I spend a great deal of time associating with the Injured Workers' Resource Centre here in Thunder Bay. Widows' and survivors' issues have become of special interest to me.
I presented a brief to the royal commission when it was sitting, detailing many of my concerns. Unfortunately, I didn't see any evidence that this material has been consulted when we had an opportunity to meet with Mr Cam Jackson; nor was there any mention of the information in the summary which was supposed to contain the essence of the royal commission gatherings.
No one has ever been able to answer the question, "Why is death a 40% disability?" and no one has addressed the fact that widows are expected to come to terms with their loss and make life-changing decisions within 12 months of losing their husbands.
I studied Bill 99 along with my colleagues and the only change I see is that benefit levels will now be based on 85% rather that 90% of the pre-accident earnings. This is certainly not a step forward. At a time when the whole world is coming apart, the survivor must cope with the loss of a loved one and also a dramatic reduction in income as well as the loss of medical and health care benefits and everything else that goes along with it.
I had hoped that a rewrite of the bill would take into consideration some of the factors that I've identified over the last few years. That doesn't appear to be the case. But I'd like to know what the true intent of this government is. Do you really want to show compassion and understanding for victims of our workplaces, or do you only want to be able to report that you've heard from widows and from injured workers?
Last year, a court case in British Columbia drew national attention when a group of widows in that province won a decision in the Supreme Court which changed their status. After having remarried before the Workers' Compensation Act was changed in that province, they were reinstated with their widows' benefits.
Earlier this year, in the early part of June, we had a meeting with Glen Wright here in Thunder Bay. When I talked to him about this issue in Ontario, he was under the impression that this problem had already been addressed and taken care of in Ontario. They have been looking into it from his office. We have been in contact with a widow who's in a similar situation here in Thunder Bay. The Supreme Court of BC having decided in a court case that widows losing their benefits on remarriage is unconstitutional, there is a court case being launched in Alberta on the same grounds and also one now being started in New Brunswick.
You have here a chance to show that you really are concerned about the survivors and the injured workers in this province by making an amendment to Bill 99 to reinstate these widows who have been disfranchised and avoiding a long court case all the way to the Supreme Court. The precedent has been set in BC and I've been told both by Glen Wright's office and other legal people that this will stand up in this province.
It seems fiscally responsible to me to save the government money in the court case for the number of widows and the amount that would be paid out. It would be less than what it would cost you in court cases, especially when you would end up having to pay it anyway. As a gesture towards those of us who are injured workers in this province, it would show at least you're listening to something we have to say.
The Chair: You've left us with lots of time for questions. There's about four minutes per caucus. We'll begin with the government caucus.
Mr Maves: You said, "This week I have received word from Glen Wright's office that a similar case has been launched in New Brunswick." What else did Mr Wright have to say in his correspondence?
Mrs Poster: For which?
Mr Maves: You talked about your correspondence with Mr Wright. It says he knows about that case and that another case has been launched in New Brunswick. What else did he say about the issue?
Mrs Poster: The legal department of workers' compensation has granted that this situation is unconstitutional. Really, the situation is that widows who remarried prior to 1985 did not retain their benefits. The same widows who waited until after the bill was passed retained their benefits under the same legislation. So it's only the ones who weren't reinstated who are in an unconstitutional situation; it's discrimination.
Mr Maves: I understand that and I thank you, but did he have anything further to say other than acknowledging that?
Mrs Poster: That they are trying to find a way to rectify the situation and they would prefer to do it without having to go through the court system. It will require a law, because it was in legislation in Bill 101.
Mr Maves: I thank you for bringing it to my attention. I appreciate it.
Mr Patten: Thank you for your presentation, which is very interesting. By the way, have you been in touch with the Ontario Human Rights Commission?
Mrs Poster: Not as yet. There is an Ontario group of widows who are prepared to move forward on this issue with their own court case. I've sort of forestalled them because of the contact I had with one of these widows. We wrote to Mrs Witmer and she forwarded the information to Mr O'Keefe's office. Then we had the opportunity to meet with Glen Wright, so we've sort of addressed it from that end rather than proceeding right off with court.
Mr Patten: I would say it would be worthwhile, if you don't do it, that we can do it and ask for an opinion from the Human Rights Commission vis-à-vis the other two rulings -- three now, I guess. The other way to do it is that we can ask by way of the review of the legislation.
Mrs Poster: That's my suggestion. While you're putting Bill 99 through, this could be cleared up very quickly.
Mr Patten: That's right, because part of the responsibilities of the various commissions is in light of their particular mandate: what's compatible, what's out of whack, what's in line with the Human Rights Code, both provincially and federally, this kind of thing. We'd be happy to follow up on your behalf for that as well.
Mrs Poster: Thank you.
Mr Gravelle: I think this probably is a good opportunity for the committee. Because I'm not a regular sitting member of this committee, I probably shouldn't be assuming all kinds of things, but it seems to me that if, for the assurance of government members, there can be some information related to the court cases that have already gone through the system, and if it becomes clear that indeed this is going to be repeated in this province, it is an opportunity for the committee, with the other things being checked into, to put forward an amendment that would be a good thing to do and something that will also save some money in the long run.
Mrs Poster: The legal department at WCB has been doing some research on this already.
Mr Gravelle: Muriel, I just wanted to say that you were a great Evelyn Dodds, I thought.
Mrs Poster: That was Madge Crabitz. Madge has gone home.
Mr Gravelle: Oh, sorry. Muriel, I know you've been working long and hard with the injured workers' group for some time. There are a lot of parts of Bill 99 that I think a lot of us find pretty offensive. I appreciate that you have focused your time specifically on this issue, but I know you're an advocate in every sense of the word. Those of us, particularly in Thunder Bay, are very conscious of that. Is there anything else you want to have an opportunity to say on specific sections of the bill that particularly upset you?
Mrs Poster: I can't tell you how many people have asked me for a specific answer to that this week. Of course, there are a lot of issues. That's one reason I chose to pick this as a small issue rather than try to bring it in.
As I said, we presented to the royal commission, we presented to Cam Jackson. We've done all these things. If people want to know where my feelings are and what it is, it's there. The brief is there with the royal commission information, yet nothing from my brief showed up in the summary that I read of that information.
Mr Gravelle: Well, you're an extraordinary advocate for the group.
Mrs Poster: If somebody else wants a copy of the brief, I've still got the original. It can be reproduced.
Mr Gravelle: Thanks very much.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): Muriel, you're not done yet. I have a very simple question to ask you. As I was reading the newspaper this morning, the newspaper was recounting that most employers in Ontario are doing very well. Profits are headed for record highs. I note that one of the chief impacts of this legislation will be to give employers a $6-billion gift. That's what they get out of Bill 99: a $6-billion gift.
Given that benefits are going to be cut from 90% to 85% and given that you probably know a lot of people who are widows and survivors, what do you think the impact of this bill will be upon the people you know? We know it will be very good for employers, but what do you think the impact will be upon survivors?
Mrs Poster: Certainly 40% disability -- when someone dies, that's what a survivor gets. Everyone assumes it's 100% disability, and it's not. I've shocked a lot of people in the last five or six years with the revelation that it's only 40%, and this is just going to shrink it. A lot of us in this part of the country -- my husband was a miner. He made more than what the WCB cap was. So what I end up with is about 25% of what his wage was. I can't maintain my home, I can't maintain the life I had when he was alive because I just don't have the financial means. The first thing is, when a widow gets to that point, "Is this all there is?" It's a very devastating situation.
Mr Christopherson: I was going to ask you about the issue you raised at the bottom of page 2 when you state that many widows remarry out of desperation, feeling they have no choice, and given what you've just said, I think that becomes clear.
One of our concerns in our caucus has been that many of the initiatives of this government have had an even greater negative impact on women. Certainly when we look at cuts to social assistance, we know the number of those families that are headed by single women; the health care cuts just across the board; pay equity of course is being all but eliminated in terms of moving forward.
I wondered if you could just expand on how big a program that is, because we know that some of the initiatives, in terms of cuts to rape crisis centres and other intervention tools that were available for women who were in abusive situations, are eliminated and a lot of women's advocate groups are saying that's going to force women to go back into abusive situations that they otherwise wouldn't have to, and Lord knows shouldn't have to. I just wonder if you could give us a sense of how many women are in this situation, being forced into a domestic situation they shouldn't have to be.
Mrs Poster: I'm not sure about numbers. I think Mr Sheppard is going to be up a little later this afternoon and he can expand on that sort of thing for you. The rate, being the maximum amount on WCB -- it's not a pension, it's a benefit level -- is just around the same amount that I would receive if I were on welfare, so it doesn't leave you very much. Because I'm psychologically imbalanced, being a widow, I couldn't get drug plans or medical plans so therefore all these -- if you have depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, you pay $300 or $400 a month for drugs. Out of an $1,100-a-month benefit, that doesn't leave very much.
Mr Christopherson: Please correct me if I'm wrong, but it must leave you feeling almost like a double victim: first of all, the loss of your husband and then the loss of your quality of life, such as it otherwise would have been had you had a decent amount of money to fall back on.
Mrs Poster: Right. Just in case everybody's thinking, "Well, you should have insurance," if any of you are investing, to replace what my husband's wage was would require $1 million in investments to replace what he was making, and at the interest rates as they are right now, most of us just don't have that.
Mr Christopherson: I think one could legitimately respond to someone who said, "Why don't you have insurance?" that the fact of the matter is that WCB was originally there to ensure there was proper, fair, equitable compensation for people who are injured or lose their life on a job through no fault of their own, which is again why I see it as you being left as a double victim in this case. That kind of cold-hearted response is just not acceptable.
Mrs Poster: If somebody wins the Encore or something on the 6/49, $250,000 sounds like a lot of money, but try to live on it.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you again for coming forward. You've made a real impact.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We appreciate your coming before us with this issue.
THUNDER BAY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Chair: I'd now like to call the representative from the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, please. Good afternoon.
Mr Paul Duncan: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Thunder Bay. My name is Paul Duncan and I currently serve as the first vice-chair of the board of directors for the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce. With me this afternoon are Harold Wilson, a member of our chamber executive, serving as vice-chair, and our president, Rebecca Johnson. We are pleased to have the opportunity to address the standing committee on resources development to speak to issues regarding Bill 99, the Workers' Compensation Reform Act.
To give you some insight into our organization, the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce represents some 940 member organizations and over 1,300 voting representatives. We also note that 76% of our membership is comprised of businesses with 15 or less employees.
The general focus for our chamber of commerce during 1997 is on municipal issues. Workers' compensation, although not a municipal issue, is still one of great importance to our membership.
On April 10, 1995, our chamber made a presentation to the Royal Commission on Workers' Compensation. At that time, the chamber left the commissioners with a list of recommendations. Our presentation today refers back to that presentation and what has occurred during the past two years to address our specific issues. We will also comment on additional items that appear in the current legislation known as Bill 99.
The new legislation will hopefully reduce complexity and foster better service for injured workers and employers. With the board having a new name, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the chamber anticipates that the board will have an insurance focus, with less politics involved. Changes in workers' compensation change with the government of the day. It is important that some long-term stability be made in this area to overcome the unfunded liability and guarantee the security of benefits to workers injured today and in the future and, more importantly for the business community, provide employers the competitive premiums needed to encourage investment and job creation. Increased employer and worker accountability, coupled with a higher expectation for worker-employer-board cooperation, is, we feel, a central theme of Bill 99.
We commend you for the steps taken to make the system financially healthy.
Bill 99 removes the board's jurisdiction to consider claims for chronic occupational stress under section 12. A positive step has been undertaken with the limiting of compensation for chronic pain -- instead stressing treatment and pain management -- and reducing benefit levels. What still needs to be examined and set out is what the entitlement criteria are.
In 1995 we stated that the 90% benefit level of net average earnings was generous by Canadian standards. We are pleased to see a slight decrease to 85% of take-home pay, which is now similar to other provinces, but still feel that this amount remains an incentive to remain off work. Bill 99 should include an explicit provision which indicates that pre-injury income should not be exceeded by compensation benefit awards, including CPP disability, and that economic circumstances in the economy or workplace alone should not allow compensation to be extended.
It is not acceptable and is difficult to defend a person who gets injured and develops a partial disability having more money after tax than those who continue working and progress normally. Also, with pensions, it is unproductive to have to defend workers' compensation pensions that can be higher than the pensions of those who continue working. It is necessary to remove inequities to achieve support for the new direction being undertaken with Bill 99.
You have moved to speed the return of the injured employee to useful work. Modern advances in medicine show that rehabilitation and recovery can be achieved very quickly and effectively, provided that the right incentives are in place and any disincentives to return to work are removed.
Bill 99 confers extraordinary discretionary powers on the board, which may lead to unfair overcompensation or undercompensation and probably a proliferation of appeals. For example, the bill allows the board to deem a worker's earnings if "a labour market re-entry plan for the worker has been fully implemented," without defining what is meant by "fully implemented." The government's intentions are lost in this vague language.
We believe that employers generally cooperate in bringing injured workers back to the workplace. A duty to cooperate for the worker and employer under section 40 is positive; however, unfair and unneeded. New legal requirements for both workers and employers are created. This area should be looked at.
Bill 99 provides a very broad discretion to the board in setting individual company assessment rates, yet individual disputes are not allowed to proceed to the tribunal. This is unfair and must be changed.
There must be a method to distinguish between those injuries and illnesses which are work-related and those which are not. The chamber recommends that a solid basis for interpretation must be made. A common set of definitions must be made and adhered to.
We noted in the opening of our presentation this afternoon that 76% of our membership is comprised of businesses with 15 or less employees. Although the province defines small business at 50 people, those employers, who are the future of our province, must have their needs addressed. These businesses have small revenues and cannot afford growing expenses and huge liabilities. They depend on workers' compensation for compensation situations. These business people do not have the resources to keep abreast of changes in laws and legislation, let alone deal with issues that could result from workers' compensation. Because of their size and limited resources, it might not be possible to set up rehabilitation programs for part of their workforce. They also cannot self-insure due to limited resources, nor in most cases will they join self-support organizations. On an individual case, small business might cost the workers' compensation system more than larger businesses. The workers' compensation system must find ways to assist small business, to help reduce the number and severity of injury and have the injured worker return to full employment.
Support is given to changes requiring workplace parties to both file claims with the board, limiting claim filing for six months post-injury and requiring worker consent for release of functional abilities information related to the return to work. Return to work holds the key for future workplace organizations and must become a more common practice in employment relationships. Employees who don't receive cooperation from workers and health care practitioners return to work facing impossible barriers. We believe that no final compensation decision should be awarded until all relevant information from all parties, workplace and health, has been received and considered by the board decision-makers.
The new legislation obliges both workplace parties to cooperate in returning the injured worker to the workplace. The issue of cooperation must be extended to cover all stakeholders: the worker, the union, the employer, the board, and the medical community.
In section 40, the chamber notes, the duty to accommodate explicitly includes contacting the worker and maintaining ongoing contact. The contact should be left broadly interpreted. Contact is required to determine both fitness and a timetable for return to work and does not constitute harassment. The chamber suggests a clearer statement of what is meant by "doing such things as may be prescribed" in sections 40(1)(d) and (2)(d).
Late intervention in vocational rehabilitation and the return to employment of the worker is an area that needs review. Currently, the board can contact the worker 45 days post-injury to determine if vocational rehabilitation is required. To ensure early intervention is established, the chamber is concerned that subsection 40(5) may authorize the board to contact the workplace parties and no time frame is specified. We suggest this intervention should be reviewed and clarified as to its intention and time frame.
There is considerable change to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal, starting with the name. The Minister of Labour has publicly stated that the tribunal is an area that requires more consideration. The chamber believes the tribunal must continue to be allowed to hear all issues of dispute for appeal purposes. Bill 99 limits the tribunal as per paragraph 117(2)4 of the current act. The tribunal must be permitted broad jurisdiction as it relates to consideration of appeals-objections, and should be permitted to hear all claims, revenue, and return-to-work/re-employment issues as they pertain to the workplace parties. This should apply particularly to subsections 80(4), (5) and (6). More generally, it is necessary to address the relationship between the board and the tribunal, which have been in conflict since section 86n was enacted with the establishment of the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal.
The chamber believes policymaking should be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the board. Policy must be the basis upon which all decisions are made for workers' compensation. The chamber believes the tribunal must apply and be bound by board policy for consistent decision-making. Where no policy exists, the issue must be returned to the board for adequate consideration, with the board of directors charged with overall policy development and dispute resolution authority. The tribunal must follow board policy, highlight policy problems in interpretation, and refer back to the board for resolution.
The government's and workplace parties' commitment to health and safety and return to work will ensure the continued success of experience rating. The chamber supports subsection 82(1) of Bill 99. We are pleased to see that the Bill 165 inclusion of a best-practices template has now been excluded from the act.
The chamber has supported the fundamental principle of an insurance-based compensation program. Bill 99 is silent on issues dealing with a second injury fund. The second injury and enhancement fund used by the board is essential in distributing the real cost of a claim and for ensuring equity in experience rating. When an employer is awarded cost relief under the second injury and enhancement fund, it has no impact on the compensation award to the worker. The chamber still believes the enhancement fund should be codified in workers' compensation statute.
The challenge to examine the workers' compensation system in Ontario is a great one. The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce has provided you with a few suggestions. Our organization would welcome the opportunity to discuss the compensation program further should the appropriate time present itself.
The business community wants to move towards eliminating injuries and illness while improving the return to work for employees. Safety incidents should be regarded as exceptions to the quality of performance in the workplace. We must work together as employers and employees to improve workplace safety, which in turn will reduce suffering and costs, improve quality, and decrease overall workers' compensation costs. This change in attitude will improve the business environment in our province and keep more people working and thus improve the economic stability in our community.
It is also important that workers' compensation adopt measurable internal targets of quality service. Customer service and customer satisfaction and performance among your employees must make workers' compensation a responsive and effective insurance provider.
We also recommend that you study the statistical injury and severity data available to identify the employment areas and groups that suffer injuries well above the averages for their businesses in a statistically significant way, and that you use this information to define the employment areas and groups which require the most attention, the actual incidents of these groups, and the experience of the safety agencies to develop the focus for programs geared to work with these employers and employees to reduce their injury frequency and the severity of their injuries. Such incidents are defective outcomes which should be regarded as exceptions to the quality of performance in the workplace. By improving workplace safety, reducing overall suffering and costs and improving quality will be realized.
Bill 99 is a definite move forward in reforming the workers' compensation system. Several issues are still not part of Bill 99 and must be addressed: definition of an accident, relating benefit levels to other jurisdictions, unlimited right for a worker's second medical examination, statutory benefit waiting period and independence of the board from government.
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce congratulates the government on the overall direction being taken in the legislation to reform the Ontario workers' compensation system. We appreciate the opportunity to provide input into your deliberations concerning Bill 99, the Workers' Compensation Reform Act. The chamber will follow the future of Bill 99 with the anticipation that the bill, through our elected representatives, will address the issues we have raised today.
The Chair: There is enough time remaining for questioning only from the Liberal caucus.
Mr Patten: Thank you for your presentation this afternoon. Your general conclusion, by the way, is that this bill looks pretty good to you. Frankly, from our point of view, we don't think it's the kind of balance that you suggest. We think it's imbalanced. We think it is certainly not beneficial in terms of compensation to injured workers and that they're the ones paying the highest price on lost benefits, lost opportunities, lost appeals, and with less say than with the existing compensation plan. We've heard about the existing compensation plan. That's not to say that some people may not try to take advantage of it. I understand that. In any big plan there are a small number, but any of our research shows that is a very small group of people in any plan.
I would ask you this: If you say that you are truly interested in a healthy, safe workplace, what's your position regarding the folding in of the Occupational Disease Panel and the loss of independence that it would have?
Mr Duncan: The folding in of the Occupational Disease Panel?
Mr Patten: Which does the study of occupational diseases.
Mrs Rebecca Johnson: I don't have a specific answer on that.
Mr Patten: Maybe I can ask you another one then. In terms of balance, what do you believe this legislation will provide in terms of encouraging work accident prevention or a healthier or safer workplace? What is it that you believe will result if this bill is implemented as it's recommended?
Mr Duncan: I'm not speaking on behalf of the chamber on this particular answer, but in my opinion as a small employer, education will go a long way in preventing accidents. Having been a former member of the Royal Canadian Air Force and being in safety systems, I can attest to education being one of the major things that help and assist people not becoming injured. If proper safety procedures are used -- as an example, if you're sitting in a jet aircraft and doing an inspection of that aircraft and you don't use safety pins, you could blow your legs off or you could blow your arms off; you could kill yourself. Proper safety procedures are mandatory, in my mind, and the education thereof.
The Chair: Thank you very much for taking the time to come forward to the committee this afternoon. We appreciate it.
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, LOCAL 268
The Chair: I'd like to now call upon representatives from the Service Employees International Union, Local 268. Good afternoon, sir.
Mr Jack Drewes: My name is Jack Drewes from the Service Employees International Union, Local 268, in Thunder Bay. We represent approximately 4,500 members, mainly in the health care and related fields, in an area from the Sault-Algoma border to the Manitoba border.
Ms Bonnie Cameron: I'm Bonnie Cameron. I'm with SEIU, Local 268.
Mr Drewes: I just want to make one thing clear. This is an unusual circumstance for me. I'm usually a union rep and in that position I'm usually sitting on the employees' side of the table. It's really unusual sitting on the employer's side of the table, because as you know, as public servants, you are all our employees. I just want to make that point right out right now. As our employees, I hope you will take heed of what the people are saying to you at these hearings, because of course we all know further disciplinary action can occur in the next few years when we have another election.
I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to make this presentation. However, we think it is shameful that 130 submissions were allowed out of the 1,300 who requested standing. I guess we're lucky enough to get one of those. This is an explosive public issue affecting millions of Ontario workers that obviously deserves more, broader, in-depth public hearings.
The previous NDP government should be credited for realizing the magnitude of the problems and the complexity workers face in dealing with the WCB. The previous government had created a royal commission that would have given this issue the proper and thorough public input it necessarily deserves. However, the Harris government wasted little time in disbanding the royal commission and arbitrarily imposing Bill 99 in its place.
The obvious contempt for the working men and women of this province by the current government has never been so blatant and disrespectful. The government claims, or wants us to believe, that there is a financial crisis in the WCB, yet in 1995 the WCB reported an operating surplus of $510 million. It's expected to be even greater in 1996. Yet the WCB refunded employers $359 million in 1994 and $247 million in 1995. That's $606 million in two years, to do the quick math for you, and Harris says there's a financial problem.
The only obvious problem here is that the government wishes to line the pockets of corporate welfare bums while the working citizens of this province get ripped off once again. The employers are bleeding the WCB dry with their continuous demands for lower premiums and greater rebates. The compensation system exists for workers, not employers. It was put in by a Conservative government I believe in 1914. Employers welcomed the no-fault insurance system idea and workers lost their right to sue the employer for accidents. Perhaps we should go back to that system.
The fact is that employers and the community know the Harris government doesn't want the public to know that the WCB premiums in Ontario are actually lower than two thirds of American jurisdictions. Quite frankly, the financial statistics show just the opposite of what this government would have the public believe. The WCB is one of the most competitive, efficient and financially strong compensation systems in North America. The government quite frankly -- I'd better not say that word.
Bill 99 will severely restrict claims by restricting entitlement. It does absolutely nothing about reducing injuries on the job. Bill 99 will cut workers off WCB by the use of a concept called "normal healing time." If a worker does not heal from his or her injury in an arbitrary amount of time, as set out in the meat charts, he or she will simply be cut off at that point. Bill 99 will cut workers off WCB by deeming them able to go out and earn a wage in suitable employment. However, Bill 99 does not require that suitable employment be actually available to the injured worker who has just been cut off WCB. This is like telling your son or daughter they can put themselves through university by scholarship even though scholarships don't exist. But stop and think. Who benefits by these changes? The answers are fairly obvious.
Bill 99 puts even further restrictions on claims entitlement by restricting a claim time, a limit of only six months from the date of injury. This time restriction will severely limit claims for repetitive strain injuries in the future. It is a feature of Bill 99 -- a coincidence? -- given that repetitive strain injuries are the fastest-growing occupational injury, increasing by 600% in 11 years. It is quite obvious the government is determined to cut off a new generation of younger Ontario citizens as we progress into the 21st century. Again, who benefits and who loses with this type of legislation?
Bill 99 now forces employees to file their own claim as opposed to the current law that allows doctors to file that claim. The intimidation factor is enormous for a worker to ask their hostile employer -- believe it or not, I've met a few hostile employers -- for a claim form, particularly in a non-union workplace. Under Bill 99 workers must release their personal medical information to their employer or they'll automatically be disqualified for benefits. Now think about that for a moment. We had a person who had some personal medical problems that were psychological in nature, and if they were released, they would become the subject of discussions around the coffee table, much like baseball scores, and that's no situation to have for the workers in this province.
Under Bill 99 the employer will have increased power to force their workers to see a company chosen doctor. Again, who benefits and who loses under these changes? The employer will have increased powers to define and implement the return-to-work process. The WCB no longer has any responsibility to monitor the effectiveness or fairness of this process. There is no provision in Bill 99 for union involvement in the return-to-work process. We have WCB training and we educate a lot of our members in helping each other through this complicated process, and Bill 99 hopefully -- well, it looks like it's going to restrict that involvement.
If the employer doesn't cooperate with return-to-work efforts, the board puts the worker in the labour market re-entry program -- another program -- which does not guarantee the worker another job, which does not provide the right to retraining, and vocational rehab is no longer even mentioned in Bill 99. The worker will ultimately be placed at the mercy of his or her employer with no appeal or protection provisions.
The worker will be put under unbelievable pressure to cooperate with the employer's demands or be cut off benefits entirely. Workers will have no choice but to return to work in pain under the watchful eye of a company doctor. Many workers who simply can't will be cut off benefits and forced on to welfare. Any workers with the courage and the patience to appeal a claim denial will be forced to appeal to a new tribunal, no longer independent of WCB. Labour representation on this panel will also be conveniently eliminated. In most, if not all, cases the worker's fate will be sealed before the appeal is even heard.
The government claims that Bill 99 will focus on preventing injuries. There's nothing in it. Bill 99 prevents claims of those injuries, but does nothing to clean up the workplace. On the same day that Bill 99 received second reading, our labour minister was consulting in Toronto about gutting the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This is the agenda that workers in this province are facing.
We can of course go into much more specific detail of the carnage, but you've probably heard plenty of that already this morning and you will probably hear more of that as you finish off your deliberations.
What is most disturbing is the spin and the false perceptions this government has carefully orchestrated to fool the majority of the people in this province. That is why I believe the government will not expand its public hearings, that maybe the truth will come out and the public realize they've been given a slate of lies; I might as well say what it is.
There are a couple of other points I want to touch on. Our members we represent in the health care industry are actually under this brief we've received from the Lancaster Health and Safety Reporter, "Nursing professionals experience the highest number of workplace injuries due to acts of violence," and it is a fact that the people who work in our health care system, trying to keep our people healthy, are actually one of the highest, if not the highest percentage of people to get hurt on the job. It certainly does no good when you start cutting the staff at those hospitals, as this government has done, putting additional strain on the people who are left to take care of the people. These people have enormous dedication to their jobs, taking care of the citizens of this province who are in our health care system.
I understand that now, as we heard earlier, drugs also have to be prepaid by the injured worker. With some of the drug plans ranging up to $400 or $500 a month prepaid, how does an injured worker have that money to put out in the first place and then wait for a claim for a couple of months? That's ludicrous. There are no savings there. All you're going to do is disfranchise the people who need the drugs but just can't afford them, and therefore they won't get any drugs and I guess that's how you're going to save your money.
I should also touch on the forms you want the employees to fill out: 24% of the people do not read or write at a grade 9 level, so how can they cope with this form if one little mistake on this form will have them totally cut off? I guess that's another system of eliminating people off WCB, for them not to cross a certain t or dot a certain i and the form gets sent back to them "incomplete."
Another question: How many languages are these forms going to be printed in? Are they going to go to the specific language of the people? Are they going to be printed in Ojibway/Cree? Are they going to be printed in the various languages of the ethnic people who fill this area? That's a question.
We've already heard about the Occupational Disease Panel which was conveniently terminated.
In conclusion, this legislation rewards employers handsomely for ignoring injury prevention. Therefore, Ontario will become statistically the safest place on earth, while in the real world of the workplace workers will be forced to work while injured, while being maimed, killed and exposed to hazardous substances, in the interests of this government's quest for a profitable business-friendly environment.
Mr Hampton: I have a couple of questions, Jack, that flow out of your presentation. You note that the unfunded liability has been coming down at the Workers' Compensation Board, yet the government says there is a financial crisis at the Workers' Compensation Board. I understand that since 1994, when the NDP amendments were introduced, the unfunded liability has come down by $1.1 billion, in less than three years. Are you aware of that?
Mr Drewes: Yes.
Mr Hampton: I also understand that in 1993 the federal government commissioned a report by KPMG, and KPMG reported in its study that Ontario's workers' compensation premiums compare favourably with Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Are you aware of that?
Mr Drewes: Yes. I believe, as I stated earlier, two thirds of the North American market actually pays higher premiums, but I'm not sure if those states even have the same benefits.
Mr Hampton: You stated in your presentation that you're unable to find anything in the bill, the proposed act, which will promote greater safety on the job.
Mr Drewes: No.
Mr Hampton:. This government has already done away with the Workplace Health and Safety Agency, which was in effect a bipartite agency -- employers and worker representatives coming together to work on education, safety education, safety procedures in the workplace. Do you see anything in this legislation --
Mr Drewes: There's nothing in this legislation even remotely going back to the days when the employers had to include workers in their meetings on health and safety, and we had one worker and one employer trained to do assessments throughout the workplace. In the workplace I worked at at Lakehead University they had a huge amount of unsafe areas, as you can well imagine with chemicals. They were cleaned up -- they were ordered cleaned up. I think that's going to go down the tubes with this legislation. If the employers don't have to meet on the committee, they won't meet on the committee, plain and simple.
Mr Maves: Thank you for your presentation. I'll say a few things and then finish with a quick question. The forms you spoke of are available in two languages, French and English, and services are available in 70 languages from the Workers' Compensation Board.
Mr Drewes: Are they accessible by all the workers?
Mr Maves: Yes, they're available from the Workers' Compensation Board. If the worker contacts the compensation board in a particular language and it's one of the 70, then they can get service in it.
After the Friedland formula was brought in by the NDP, any further reduction in the unfunded liability is because of reduced cost of administration, better performance of the asset fund and increased revenues due to increased employment and a reduction in work-time injuries.
You mentioned that RSIs, repetitive strain injuries, would no longer be compensable. That's not the case. They still are compensable.
You said there was no place for the board to play a role any more in return to work. That's not true. In sections 45, 46 and 47, it notes a role for the board.
I guess the last thing I want to ask is that I continue to hear this and I continue to say it's not the case: Maybe you can tell me where you get the impression from that a worker can only get a claim form from his employer. Where is that in the bill?
Mr Drewes: Where else are they going to get a claim form?
Mr Maves: They can get them now from their doctor, they can get them from their union, they can get them from the board itself.
Mr Drewes: If they have a union.
Mr Maves: They can still get them from a doctor. Nowhere does it say they can only get a form --
Mr Drewes: And there are time limit restrictions on these forms and all the rest.
You brought up an interesting point now. You said the WCB has more money because of the financial management your government has done, and now they're coming up. Well, here comes the old saying, and it makes a little common sense here: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Mr Maves: It's just being fixed.
Mr Drewes: Why fix it if you're making $1 billion now?
Mr Maves: Previous to 1995 they kept taking money out of the asset fund to cover costs and to cover benefits, and that can't continue. The asset fund is there to provide revenues so that workers will have security.
Mr Drewes: It made $1.1 billion. It's making billions. As a matter of fact, the employers are getting millions back in rebates. Why are you tinkering with a system that's working? Why are you tinkering with it? It's been working.
Mr Maves: Return to work is not working.
Mr Drewes: It's working in the workplaces I'm in.
Mr Maves: The unfunded liability is still a problem. It was addressed, as you suggest, by the NDP.
Mr Drewes: Have you spoken to workers on this or just employers?
Mr Maves: Workers too. Mr Jackson spoke to 150 injured workers in his community and I spoke to injured workers in my community.
Mr Drewes: But the fact is that, in the two years plus, this government did not listen to one thing workers have had to say, but they've done and implemented everything the employers have had to say. You'd think we'd get one in there out of all those. Out of the last almost two and a half years of legislation, you'd think the workers' perspective would get in there once, but it hasn't.
Mr Maves: You wanted the three-day waiting period?
The Chair: Mr Patten, please.
Mr Patten: I take it you're not a supporter of Bill 99.
Mr Drewes: Oh no, unlike the previous speakers.
Mr Patten: That was tongue in cheek.
I think you made a number of excellent points. I'll just identify a few that I think need to be revisited. The one around "normal" healing time without question obviously needs to be reviewed. You implied there would be more restrictive eligibility in terms of what is compensable.
Mr Drewes: That issue of normal healing time speaks to a meat chart type of ideal. There's a norm established, and if you don't fit in that norm you get tossed out. That is patently unfair because there could be all kinds of complications. Through my involvement with injured workers, there's nothing that's been normal. There's absolutely nothing normal about a worker getting injured on the job. So how can they put a meat chart to that sort of thing and have time restrictions? That should be up to the worker and their physician, not the company doctor, or at the company store; it should be the employee's.
Mr Patten: I agree with you on that. If indeed the programs are less restricted, the eligibility for compensation or support of any kind is less, but indeed it doesn't address truly legitimate instances where people are hurt on the job. What will this mean?
Mr Drewes: This will mean workers being cut off compensation through some technicality where they fall out of the norms. This will mean a lot more injured workers using up valuable welfare dollars in order to stay alive, because people will stay alive no matter how much you're going to try and knock them down, and then the costs are there. You're robbing Peter to pay Paul here. It doesn't make sense.
Mr Patten: That's right. So it's not an honest system in that sense. It may look good financially but in fact it's passed the responsibility on to other programs that the province or the taxpayer will have to pay.
Mr Drewes: And it does not even look good financially.
The Chair: That concludes the presentation time. Thank you for taking the time to bring your views before the committee this afternoon.
NORTHWESTERN ONTARIO BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION TRADES COUNCIL
The Chair: I'm now calling representatives from the Northwestern Ontario Building and Construction Trades Council, please. Good afternoon.
Mr Steve Silversides: My name is Steve Silversides. I'm president of the Northwestern Ontario Building and Construction Trades Council. I appreciate this opportunity to address the committee and to raise some concerns related to this pending legislation.
The council is comprised of 13 affiliated unions representing approximately 4,000 construction workers residing in Thunder Bay and throughout northwestern Ontario. Most of the union offices are located in the city of Thunder Bay.
Although geographical jurisdiction varies, the majority of trades are responsible for manpower referral to job sites located west of Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border, east of Thunder Bay to White River, located on Highway 17, and to Cochrane, located on Highway 11. All points north and south from the United States border to Hudson Bay are also included. A map highlighting the aforementioned area is enclosed.
This is pertinent information which provides an overview of the area travelled by construction workers in northwestern Ontario. The distance between Kenora and Cochrane is approximately 1,300 kilometres. Some job sites are located in towns along the main highways while others are located in more remote areas. Some locations are not accessible by highway or roadway.
Furthermore, a typical week for a construction worker in northwestern Ontario is to leave home on Sunday heading to some other location, work either a four-day, 10-hour week or a five-day, eight-hour week and return home for the weekend.
Most construction work in northwestern Ontario is categorized as heavy work activities. The nature of this work produces sprains, strains, cuts and burns to the back, neck, hands etc. Usual recovery time can be anywhere from a few days to a number of weeks depending on the severity.
The uniqueness of the construction industry, with its multi-employer and cyclical nature, has always caused WCB problems. This piece of legislation does little to address these problems and in some cases may prove to compound them.
Construction workers, whether or not they are represented by unions, are continually faced with problems involving WCB. These problems include but are not limited to notice of accident, claim for benefits, return to work, determination of earning basis, determination of benefits, claim management etc. The industry is grossly misunderstood, resulting in an adverse effect on the workers.
The following issues warrant a review prior to the endorsement of any new legislation:
Issue 1 is notice of accident, claim for benefits: Presently a worker who is injured on a construction project can report the injury to his or her site supervisor, who should then fill in a form 7. This is the usual procedure for an acute pain injury.
Most employers have solid policies related to the completion of form 7 and sending a copy to the WCB office. However, workers still face situations where the employer is reluctant to fill in the form and negotiates an alternative with the injured worker.
Another means currently used for informing WCB of an injury is through the medical profession. An injured worker seeking attention at his or her doctor's office or hospital emergency for a work-related injury would be successful in having the WCB office informed of the injury. Quite often this is the case involving gradual pain injuries: pulled muscles, strains etc where symptoms kick in after leaving the job site, sometimes not until the next morning. The latter is especially important to construction workers who return home from remote job sites and start experiencing painful symptoms resulting from a job site incident.
The new legislation proposes that the injured worker initiate the claim by completing a form and at the same time informing his or her employer of the injury. The new legislation also removes the medical profession from filing a notice of accident. Although information related to the implementation of this new procedure has not been made available, it definitely raises concerns: obtaining the forms both on and off the job site, situations involving remote job sites, literacy, language etc will result in delays and possible denial of benefits. The status quo offers the injured worker an alternative by means of the medical profession should he or she, for whatever reasons, be unable to file a form through his or her employer.
Issue 2, earning basis and determination of benefits: It is one thing to reduce benefits from 90% to 85% for the sake of the questionable and controversial unfunded liability, but it is absurd to suggest that a construction worker's hourly rate times the 40-hour week does not realistically reflect his or her earnings.
Whether this issue is employer-driven or board policy, injured construction workers are being nickel-and-dimed to death. At a time when they are unable to accept employment due to a job-related injury, they are also told their benefits will only be a percentage of the maximum.
Employers are quick to complain that they only hired an individual for a short-term job and should not be held liable when an injury occurs early in the hire-on. Well, short-term work is a reality in the construction industry. A transient workforce and transient employers are realities in the construction industry. Jobs finish and injured construction workers are being left to mend at reduced benefits.
The earning basis and determination of benefits should be based on the hourly rate times the 40-hour workweek times 52 weeks. When the construction industry peaks, these earnings are also a reality.
Issue 3, office of the worker adviser: The new legislation denies access to the office of the worker adviser by unionized workers. It is difficult to comprehend the motives behind this discriminatory act. The Jackson report indicated that workers not represented by unions need the assistance of bodies like the OWA to navigate the complexities of the workers' compensation system. I do not see where Mr. Jackson obtained his information that unionized workers do not require similar assistance.
Our council was previously informed by the Honourable Elizabeth Witmer, that moneys would be allocated to the construction sector to train personnel to represent members when dealing with WCB problems. All the training in the world does very little if you do not have the resources to employ these trained people afterwards.
Unionized construction workers in northwestern Ontario would be forced to give up their union membership in order to access the office of the worker adviser. This withdrawal would adversely affect pensions, health and welfare coverage, employment opportunities etc. There is a strong need for the office of the worker adviser, and it should be accessible to all workers.
Issue 4, disclosure of medical information: The proposed legislation demands that the injured worker consent to the disclosure to his or her employer of information provided by a health care professional. It forces the worker's doctor to provide medical information about a worker to the worker's employer. Failure to comply will result in loss of benefits.
Although it is stated that this information is for the sole purpose of facilitating the worker's return to work, I suspect that it will be used for alternative purposes by some employers. Furthermore, if workers resist an employer's return-to-work plan, their benefits can be cut off. In any event, an injured worker who is reluctant to consent to the release of this one-time privileged information will see his or her claim either delayed or disallowed.
In closing, I would suggest that northwestern Ontario and its remoteness be looked at more closely prior to finalizing any changes. I would further suggest that the construction industry and its uniqueness also be considered.
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): Thank you very much for your presentation. I have a couple things. At lunch we were able to meet with labourers from a local construction group and I just wondered if this was the norm for the northwest: They said there is about six years' worth of work with three shifts full-time. Is that what's happening in the northwest section of the province?
Mr Silversides: Regarding current construction, right now construction work is fairly sporadic. I don't believe there's any long-term --
Mr Ouellette: This was just their perception. I wondered if it was the same throughout the entire northwest or whether it was just here in Thunder Bay.
Yesterday a question came forward with your northeastern counterpart. The way I understood it was that if a construction worker were to take a day off to travel to see a doctor and then come back the next day, they would not be eligible to return to the job they were going to. Is that your perception of what would take place?
Mr Silversides: That has never been brought to my attention. I look after one particular trade and most of my members try to handle their WCB claims themselves. Quite often they've dealt with the office of the worker adviser, and from time to time they may ask for my assistance in contacting a certain person I may know in the board office or someone I may have met on a committee. We try to work through some of these little things.
Mr Ouellette: What was the average length of claim? The reason I ask is because the concern brought forward by your industry in the past was that because of the short-term employment, the job may not be there when they come back. I'm just wondering, what is the average length of claim? Are they off, as mentioned yesterday, just a day or two or is it long-term? I imagine both are there.
Mr Silversides: We have problems. For instance, some of the welders in the construction industry are starting to experience neck pain. They're around 40, 41, 42 years old and have been welding for 20 years. It's hard to get a handle. We're trying to do the documentation. Other injuries, like I said, even a pulled muscle could be four or five days to four or five weeks, depending on the severity. So it varies, and quite often right now the job isn't there. Some of the jobs run two, three, four weeks, so if the injury lasts longer than that, then that employer is gone. Quite often the employer is not even from the local area.
Mr Ouellette: How do you think that situation should be resolved, whereby they're off for compensation and then the job isn't there? What's your perception of how it should be taken care of?
Mr Silversides: It's actually difficult for the hiring hall, because the member indicates he's on workers' compensation and then basically it's up to them to inform us that they're off workers' comp and available for work at the trade. We have a tendency, I suppose, to keep at arm's distance from the member's claim unless they request assistance. A lot of information goes by that we're not privy to.
Mr Patten: I have a quick question. Thank you for your presentation. I appreciate your comment about the distance factor. I'll try and summarize your position. I think it is difficult for northerners to get through to the legislators at Queen's Park because, first of all, most of your policy people are in Toronto. Everything is Toronto-based and anything east of Yonge Street is the boonies and north of Steeles is almost out of town. I say that facetiously but it's true; it is absolutely true. I come from eastern Ontario. We have the same battle. We say, "Look, while it may be good for Toronto, it doesn't mean it's good for everybody else. There are other factors to consider."
I believe it's important to emphasize that and I think our committee should look at that. What you're essentially saying is that someone has an injury, they don't work where they live, they travel a lot and they tend to travel farther for work efforts, especially in your industry, than they would in, let's say, other parts of the province. I would take that as a given. I gather you're saying that someone has something that takes maybe hours or overnight to develop and they go home and all of a sudden they've got tremendous strain in their back and the employer says, "Listen, when he left the site he was fine." But the person is now 800 or 500 kilometres away or whatever it may be. I think that factor has to be considered. Is that one of the major points you want to get across?
Mr Silversides: One of the biggest concerns of the construction industry is that it's easy to go downtown in Toronto and see the big PCL construction project that's going on for a year and a half. They have all the job site trailers and the administration is great. They have their policies, everything, but in northwestern Ontario you could have an employer coming in from BC, Nova Scotia, the States, virtually working out of a pickup truck with a cell phone. All the forms, if they have them, are in the briefcase and it's a roughshod operation.
Then if you get hurt on one of those particular job sites -- and a lot of construction guys, and gals, I guess, are fairly hardy. They shrug it off. They're used to those strains and whatever and it could be a Thursday, it could be a Friday, they head on home and all of a sudden Saturday morning, bingo, they're rolling out of bed on all fours. Some of them don't even have the cell number of the supervisor up on the site and that's a 500- or 600-kilometre drive back.
The remoteness is a definite factor in northwestern Ontario. We have employers in the area who for the most part are here, their head offices are here, but we deal with a huge number of employers who come into the area and do periodic work and then they leave. The administration is not as good in that area as probably a job site in southern Ontario.
Mr Christopherson: Thanks very much for your presentation, Steve. I want to pick up on the issue you raise of disclosure of medical information. For some reason the government members still have difficulty understanding why Ontario workers feel so outraged that their private, personal medical information is being given to their employers and that they have to sign a consent, and if they don't they could be denied benefits. Part of the government's response is, "Well, it's just a functional ability report." It's not dealing with detailed doctors' notes and therefore that makes it okay somehow in their mind. I have a copy of the particular document the board has circulated to stakeholders for feedback.
I would first of all like you to say in your own words to the government members, since they seem to miss the point, why ordinary Ontarians feel so strongly about any level of their own personal medical information being given to their employer whether they want to or not.
The second thing I want to raise, and I say to the parliamentary assistant that if this has now been clarified, I haven't yet heard and I would appreciate him letting me know, but I've raised this before -- to his credit Mr Ouellette raised a similar concern in Toronto. One of the things it says in here to the health professional filling out this form is: "The employer and the worker will use this information to return the worker to suitable and available work. Their return-to-work plans will reflect the physical precautions you have noted" -- you, the health professional filling this out -- "and presume that no clinical contradictions exist for other work activities."
My concern, and I think it's shared by Mr Ouellette and perhaps others, is that this doesn't say just injury-related, physical abilities; this is all restrictions. If you have some other medical problem that affects your functional ability, whether it's work-related or personal, it's going to appear on this form, and that may affect your ability to perhaps bid on other jobs or return to the specific job you want, although you were managing. Now that information is theirs. I don't hear Mr Maves jumping in and saying, "No, that's not the case," so I presume that's a correct assumption.
I'd like your thoughts on what that might mean to your members, first of all, the principle of private, personal medical information being given to an employer, and second, the specific of non-work-related injuries being reported at all in the context of what information is being given to an employer. Your thoughts on those things, please.
Mr Silversides: First of all, regarding the disclosure of any medical information -- I'll just get my train of thought here. When you take sizes of communities, when you have few employers within that community, the grapevine runs rampant. I wouldn't want any of my members so-called blackballed or blacklisted because around some table somebody was discussing medical information or misconstruing some type of medical information contained on a form. We all deal with forms and paperwork, and quite often we can read into a lot of the information what we want to read into it. I guess that's what appeals are all about. You present your own case.
In small communities -- and Thunder Bay is a small community, Sarnia -- the construction industry in particular is a close-knit network within these small communities. It happens now without the disclosure. There are members of certain trades and there are certain construction workers in the area who are tagged by the employers. They're quick to release those employees once they get on those job sites. They do it within the parameters of the collective agreement so there won't be any grievances or anything, but layoff is quick. In the construction industry, that's the way it's done.
Some employers -- I'm not saying all; I'm just saying that with some employers it is their policy, on certain types of injuries, to say no. They fight it from day one. If it's a back injury, "No, that did not happen on my job." It's their policy. That's what they've been instructed to do. They don't want to be held liable for anything of that nature. In fairness to some of the employers who have hired an employee and it's the first week that employee is hired, and the individual has been in the trade for 30 years and the back isn't as strong as it was when they were 20 years old, all of a sudden a claim is put in and now that employer is being tagged with it. I sympathize with that employer. Maybe that should be something that's looked into, some type of general funding or something for injuries of that nature, especially to do with the construction industry.
There are a lot of criteria and there are a lot of limitations regarding what you can lift and everything, but we all know the reality of the situation. I've probably lifted four times what I was supposed to out there in the field to get the job done so the client-owner could get that piece of equipment back on line and start producing. It's the nature of the industry. That's the difference between what really happens out there in the workplace and the idealistic nature of what should happen. We're all faced with it.
The Chair: With that, thank you very much. We appreciate your taking the time to come before the committee this afternoon to give us your advice.
THUNDER BAY AND DISTRICT LABOUR COUNCIL
The Chair: I now call representatives from the Thunder Bay and District Labour Council. Mr Pugh, welcome.
Mr Paul Pugh: My name is Paul Pugh. I'm a member of the executive of the Thunder Bay and District Labour Council. I have with me Judith Mongrain, who is the second vice-president of the labour council. Judith will begin our presentation.
Ms Judith Mongrain: "All for ourselves and nothing for other people seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind" -- quoted from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations
"Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate.... Masters too sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate.... It is not difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions...force the other into compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily; and the law, besides authorizes, or at least does not prohibit their combination, while it prohibits that of the workers."
On behalf of the Thunder Bay and District Labour Council, we wish to thank the tens of thousands who have protested in the streets, the workplaces and at the Legislature, forcing this arrogant, brutal government to at least observe the pretence of public consultation.
We wish to emphasize that Bill 99 equally threatens public and private sector workers, and Paul and I, representing both the public and private sector, are here on behalf of the council. In northwestern Ontario, workers have cause to fear the consequences of this legislation. Because of the nature of the region's economy, many jobs are based in the forest industry and mining. Some of these jobs are among the most dangerous in the province. In addition, we face invisible hazards from chemical substances, repetitive strain and stress due to the ever-intensifying pace at all workplaces.
Public sector workers, responsible for the maintenance and running of essential services, despite the region's extreme weather for much of the year, face many of the same hazards as workers in the private sector. Because of our many years of union activity -- between us we have 45 years of workplace experience representing workers -- we could cite many examples of serious problems faced by injured workers, problems that could be and should be addressed by legislation.
In the north particularly, changes to the WCB will cause more hardship. It's not unusual for injured workers to wait over a year to see a specialist. The north has a shortage of all physicians, but specialists are more and more difficult to find.
For many injured workers in the north, travel to Toronto, over 1,000 miles away, is one of their few options to seek medical treatment on a timely basis. This government's continued cutting in the health sector will take this option away from northern workers as the waiting lists for specialist treatment continue to grow.
But none of this is of any interest to this government. Its sole concern, and the object of Bill 99, is obvious: reduce costs for employers immediately, render workers more dependent and subservient and move towards privatizing workers' compensation so the insurance companies can feed off disabled workers.
Mr Pugh: Immediately on taking office, the Harris government declared war on workers. Virtually every action, every piece of legislation since, has obviously been directed towards weakening the position of working people, eliminating or gutting standards and programs that benefit workers. Beginning with its first act, the slashing of social assistance, through its anti-labour Bill 7, on through the anti-democratic omnibus bill, and in each and every one of its actions and legislation, this government has made its intent abundantly clear: to drive working people into a weak and defenceless position before their masters. Bill 99, a bill to gut workplace safety and workers' compensation, fits well into the Harris-corporate agenda.
There is absolutely nothing in this bill that we can support; however, we join with the Ontario Federation of Labour in noting the following particularly anti-worker provisions: reducing the inflation protection of unemployed workers with disabilities by 75%; forcing workers to undergo risky operations or take drugs which they prefer to avoid because it is cheaper than the treatment recommended by their physician; privatizing vocational rehabilitation so that making a profit from a worker's misfortune becomes a higher priority than the worker's wellbeing; cutting future disabled workers' pensions in half when the government knows full well that most injured workers do not have any access to an employer pension plan; cutting benefits from 90% to 85% of net pay; setting arbitrary time limits on one of the most debilitating disabilities -- chronic pain; eliminating compensation for chronic workplace stress; eliminating the independent appeals system and placing WCAT decision-making under the control of an employer representative appointed by this government; deeming workers to be able to obtain jobs which are not available and then setting their benefit levels on the pretence that a job is available.
The foregoing, plus the many other anti-worker provisions of Bill 99, are supposedly justified by a phoney "funding crisis" of the WCB. In fact, as we all know and as we've heard today, the board has built up huge surpluses, amounting to over $1 billion, during the past three years. It has over $8 billion in the bank and owes nothing to anyone. The "funding crisis" is nothing but a smokescreen for yet another blatant attack on workers.
What would be achieved by Bill 99? A declaration of open season on injured workers; taking the responsibility for injuring workers away from the employer and blaming the injured for their injury; reducing injured workers to being poor and homeless, and we all know how this government has demonized "those people." To be poor and injured is to have done something wrong, and those who have done wrong are punished by this government.
If this government has even a shred of concern for working people, of which we have yet to see any indication, it will scrap Bill 99. There is no way to amend it other than through a process of deletion. Every paragraph deleted improves the bill. Deletion of the bill would improve it most of all. Better yet, we urge the government to do one honourable thing during its term to date: resign.
The Thunder Bay and District Labour Council will continue to work with others and continue to do everything it can to block, impede and delay this government's anti-people activities. In this we join with the vast and growing majority of the citizens of Ontario.
"Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds make up the far greater part of every great political society...what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole." -- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
Mr Gravelle: Thank you very much for your presentation, Paul and Judith. This is Bill 99. As you know, we've got some more frightening stuff ahead in terms of Bill 136, which is another -- it's hard to know the right words, but it's an extraordinary piece of legislation which obviously is a further attack on labour, maybe the one that will be the most violent. I'm operating, I suppose, on the premise that we'll probably be ending up in public hearings much like this, which are frustrating, because we recognize there aren't going to be a lot of changes.
One of the things I'm thinking is that there are some aspects of this bill -- we understand that there aren't going to be major amendments, that the government won't accept them. But there are some things that strike me as really wrong and unnecessary.
For example, the notice of accident, the claim benefits: I can't see why the government needs to have this particular piece in there. It may not seem like a big deal, but it seems to me that all it does in terms of changing the way of the worker having to initiate the claim is that it means there will be ultimately fewer, because of circumstances. Mr Silversides got into that. That seems to me one that will have an impact because of the way it's being changed. If it was left as the status quo -- we're not going to be happy with this piece of legislation, but that makes sense. It wouldn't be a great deal to ask, to maintain the status quo in terms of notice of the accident claim. Mr Silversides, in terms of the construction industry, made that clear. I trust you'd agree with that. I think that's something we should be asking for in amendment form.
The other is the office of the worker adviser. Just give me your thoughts on that. My guess is that the response would be, "If you're unionized you don't need it." I happen to know they do. That's my guess, that they would say the union will look after them. I happen to know that unionized workers do; it's a very complex thing. But give me your thoughts on the fact that unionized people will not be able to access the office of the worker adviser.
Ms Mongrain: It concerns us a great deal. The majority of activists in the union movement are volunteers. They work for an employer. They put in their eight-hour day for the employer and have to do their volunteer activities after that. To take away the option of being able to work with the adviser -- not all our locals have the people with the expertise, nor can we fund them to do this work full time, and it needs to be done full time if they cannot go to the adviser. It is a greater and greater difficulty for us. Even at this point, without the bill going through, our members are being turned away and pointed back to our office.
Mr Gravelle: In effect, it's being treated as if the bill is actually law.
Ms Mongrain: Yes. That's what's happening, and it's wrong.
Mr Gravelle: I'm sure the government members would want to correct that. That's wrong.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much, Paul and Judith, for your presentation. Although most presentations allude to it, yours deals very directly with the fact -- and you say so explicitly on page 4, where you state: "Virtually every action, every piece of legislation since," meaning since the government was elected, "has been directed towards weakening the position of working people, eliminating or gutting standards and programs that benefit workers."
I think the fact that you chose, here in Thunder Bay, to have a representative of the public sector and private sector labour movement makes that case even more strongly. I think it's important the government understand that there's no division in the labour movement on this issue; there's no division between unionized and non-unionized in terms of the impact, nor between disabled and able-bodied workers in terms of the impact on those people and how much they oppose what the government's doing.
Being from Hamilton, it's always enlightening to be in the north, to learn more and more about it each time. You mention that forestry and mining are a couple of the big parts of your economy here. When I think of what's happening in MNR, you must have faced cutbacks in MNR and that's meant job losses up here. I know you're looking at major cutbacks in your health care system and hospital closures. You mentioned that social assistance rates, meaning the poorest of the poor, have been cut by 22%. We know the Workplace Health and Safety Agency has been eliminated, and we know the government is already attacking the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which means there are going to be more and more injuries.
My impression is that your presentation as the labour council was a sort of holistic presentation to say, "This is the total sum of what you're doing to us here in Thunder Bay." I can only imagine that the end result is that you're expecting your local economy, jobs as well as the health of the workers, will face major negative impacts in the next few years as a result of virtually everything the government has done. Is that the correct message that you're sending from here in Thunder Bay?
Mr Pugh: Yes, that is pretty close to exactly what we're experiencing and what we're trying to say, at least to the members of the opposition, because we realize the government members aren't listening.
Both Judy and I represent workers before workers' comp cases in our respective unions, and we've seen that the provisions of Bill 99 are already being implemented. I could personally relate several cases of workers being forced to do things they shouldn't be forced to do. But we wanted to get on to the general focus of what we believe this government is out to do, which is essentially to remove all the social safety net, all these structures that workers at one time, through generations of struggle and sacrifice, built up, such as the welfare system, such as health care, such as education, such as workers' comp, all of these platforms that gave us something to stand on when we were facing the employers, the large corporations.
We heard the bullshit from the chamber of commerce and the small employers saying how they're so important and all that. The fact of the matter is that the people who call the shots in this province and in Canada are huge, powerful corporations that have enormous clout. These are the people who set the tone in the workplaces, and the other ones just follow suit. These are the people that we have to face.
This government, these pigs over here, are removing the platforms which gave us a little bit of something to stand on when we're facing up to those people, removing them one by one, one by one, manufacturing these phoney crises, like the crisis over funding, the crisis in education, the crisis over welfare cheating, all manufactured out of thin air so that then they can proceed to attack area after area that is essential to our wellbeing. These programs, these things that people gave their lives to build up, they are stripping away from us now. That's what we want to focus on, because the other stuff is just a smokescreen, just smoke and mirrors. They really aren't concerned about all that stuff. What they want to do is to make us defenceless.
Mr Ouellette: I want to find out if it was just an isolated area or whether it was an occurrence happening elsewhere: Yesterday one of the presenters said that one of the areas that's complicating the WCB process was that the medical profession was having difficulty filling out the forms, and they were having a lot of problems in going back and forth. Is that something you're finding in this area as well? Are you hearing about that at all?
Ms Mongrain: Most of the physicians we deal with in regard to claims with our members are extremely frustrated that when they clearly state on the forms the condition of the injured worker, they get inundated and buried in more paperwork that they must fill out and get in quickly or they know that their patient is going to be without any money. It continues to be a big frustration for them. I won't use the language my own physician uses when you walk in with more compensation forms to clear up: You didn't dot the "i" or you didn't cross the "t."
Mr Ouellette: It was being said yesterday that one of the problems was that the forms were not being filled out correctly and it was causing some problems. I just wondered if it was an isolated area or whether it was being experienced here as well.
Ms Mongrain: I think that because the physicians are overwhelmed, and in the north we don't have enough physicians of any type, they don't have the time. They do it as quickly as they can. They know there's a deadline to make sure the clients, their patients, are serviced through the WCB, and so those kind of errors are made. Then we go back to get more forms filled out. It's unfair to the physicians who are trying to provide the services to the injured workers. They don't like it. They know that their patient is injured. They have said so very clearly on the form, but if they just miss the mark, everything goes back and they start over again.
Mr Spina: Paul and Judy, thank you. I didn't realize that my curly tail was showing; I'm being called a pig.
Mr Pugh: I can see it very well.
Mr Spina: I had a question. You mentioned that between the two of you, you have 45 years' experience representing workers, and that's something good and positive and ought to be respected. You talked about the problems faced by the injured workers because of the remoteness of areas like the lumber camps, mining areas and so forth. Bill 99 aside, as I said earlier today, what one priority would you make as a recommendation that WCB could adopt to improve the service to that situation?
Ms Mongrain: I think the major thing for WCB improvement is that when a form is submitted saying that a worker has been injured, it is recognized that a worker has been injured.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That concludes our presentation time. We appreciate your taking the time to come this afternoon.
UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, NORTHWESTERN ONTARIO AREA COUNCIL
The Chair: I'd now like to call representatives from the United Steelworkers of America, Northwestern Ontario Area Council. Welcome.
Mr Moses Sheppard: Thank you, Chair. My name is Moses Sheppard and I'm a staff representative for the United Steelworkers. I service local unions from Manitouwadge in the east to Red Lake in the west. Let me apologize to you first of all because our presentation has been captioned as "Mr Chairman." I apologize for that. It's a male thing. Don't ask me why we do it.
I have with me, Madam Chair and members, a number of workers, most of whom are injured workers. I too am an injured worker. I worked in a mine a number of years ago. I wonder how many of you know what it is to be an injured worker. I first got injured in 1959. I went deaf. I was in the navy at the time. I haven't heard anything out of my left ear for about nine years. For the right ear I need a hearing aid. In 1972, I broke my ankle in the mine. By the time I got a specialist's help, the broken bone fragments had eroded the cartilage, and I've walked on bone on bone since 1972.
I used to run. I can't run any more. I used to climb. I can't do that any more. Dancing is difficult. A hearing aid has no discrimination. A hearing aid picks up the loudest sounds. If you're speaking to your wife and a big truck goes by in the street, you will hear the big truck, not your wife or a little child.
I'm not asking for your sympathy. I don't want your sympathy. But I want to tell you that I'm representative of injured workers. We go to work every day. We don't complain. We don't ask you for anything. What we ask is the right to work and the right to be treated with decency, something that is sadly lacking in this province over the last three years.
Let me return to my brief. I won't read it all. I wanted to welcome you to the southern and eastern edge of the great northwest. Some of you really should get in a car and go and have a look at northern Ontario. North of Kenora, we could take all of southern Ontario and lose it. It would take a satellite to find it. There are workers up there. They get hurt. They'd like to see your faces. They'd like to talk to you. They'd like you to explain to them what it is about Bill 99 that's going to help them.
We have a worker here from Local 950 in Balmertown. She'll speak to you in a moment as an injured worker. We represent miners in Balmertown. It's 600 kilometres to the north and west of us. Yesterday in Balmertown, gasoline was 72.8 cents a litre. Wieners were $2 a pound, without the bun and without the mustard. You should go up and listen and talk to those people and tell them how they're going to get around after you've cut their compensation. Old Joe Gobles, if he was here, would marvel at your ability to screw workers while at the same time telling them you're doing them a favour.
In 1914 we entered into a social compact in this province. It was very simply put together: You don't sue me, the boss, and I, the boss, will provide for you, the injured worker. For the first time since 1914, we are now making a major assault upon the principles, the underlying pinions of that social compact. You are changing it, and you are changing it fundamentally. The benefits that emanate from Bill 99 will go to bosses, not to injured workers.
I represent largely, and this union represents largely, miners in the northwest. Mining is a brutal industry. Through a series of small openings on the surface of the ground, men go into the bowels of the earth and they drill and they blast and they crush rocks all day, every day. The rocks are full of silica and arsenic and mercury, to say nothing of the fallout from the explosives. There's radiation, there's insufficient air, there's darkness and dampness; there's too much and too little heat and too much and too little cold. These places are mechanically ventilated. Frequently they don't work as well as they ought to, and sometimes they don't work at all. It is no wonder that men get sick working there.
We had the good sense a number of years ago to put in place something called the Industrial Disease Standards Panel. One of the jobs of that group was to look at and try to prove whether in fact conditions such as they are in mines were contributing to diseases. Thanks to you, you have now shot the messenger. You have outlawed and dispensed with that group of people.
I want just briefly to talk to you about mining companies. You see, Westray was not unusual. What was unusual about Westray was we killed 26 people all at once. Most mines, we kill them one and two at a time. But Westray is more representative of mining than maybe you want to believe. There are wives and children and parents and other relatives looking for answers and closure in Pictou county. Where are the two principals of the mining company? Seeking refuge in the courts. That's how we're going to help injured workers and dead workers: Go to the courts; protect your ass there. If you've got a lot of money, you can do that. If you haven't any money, you'll be shit out of luck.
I have a letter in my possession from 1954, written by a gold miner in Timmins. He was in the tuberculosis sanatorium at Haileybury. He wrote to Buck Behie, who was then the Steel staff rep in Timmins, and he said to Buck Behie: "There are 26 people in here. Twenty-one of them are miners. Where are the shopkeepers and where are the farmers and where are the politicians? They're not here." Your response to that is to get rid of the disease standards panel.
We had a mining master file. When we convinced the government of the day to compensate the widows of gold miners who had died of lung cancer, it wasn't based upon epidemiology; it was based upon the bodies stacking up in front of the mines. It was a public embarrassment. So what have you done? You have destroyed the mining master file, dispensed with it. Now we won't be able to find out what the hell is going on at all. So you've shot the messenger; you've destroyed our ability to reconstruct the message.
We used to have chest surveillance for miners done once a year, more latterly once every two years. In 1996, after you had gotten rid of that group, Battle Mountain Gold in Marathon contracted with a medical surveillance group out of Hamilton to come in and take X-rays of gold miners. About two months ago, we started to get the results. Nine of them got X-rays that said, "You've got silicosis," or "You've got a non-occupational disease." They went and saw other specialists. One specialist said to one of those 32-year-old miners, "Oh, if you haven't got silicosis, you've got lung cancer."
After further investigation, it turned out there was nothing wrong with any of the nine of them. They were removed from their workplaces and lost money. It cost them money to go and visit medical specialists, to have X-rays taken. We're gratified that these nine are well. Our fear, our suspicion, though, is that there are nine miners out there someplace who aren't well, and we now contract out that service. The mining company tells us, because we're in negotiations, there is no plan at the moment to dispense with that mob.
That is what you have done. You have destroyed the system, and then you come here under the guise of wanting to consult. You're like my drunk uncle: You're a day late and a dollar short. As far as I'm concerned -- I hesitate to be vulgar -- you can all go to hell in a handbasket.
The Chair: Excuse me, please.
Mr Sheppard: None of you gives a rat's ass about workers, injured or otherwise. That's the fact.
The Chair: Excuse me, please. At this point --
Mr Sheppard: That's the middle and both ends of that.
The Chair: We have had a number of instances of vulgarity. I let the first one slide. The second one I thought, "Well, it wasn't too bad." But I'm going to say right here and now, no more. If this continues --
Mr Sheppard: What is vulgar --
The Chair: Excuse me. Please allow me to finish. If this continues, I'm simply going to call a recess and we won't continue on. I am not going to sit here and listen to vulgarity and cursing in the afternoon. I'm very happy to hear your opinions, but I will not tolerate that kind of language. Please continue.
Mr Sheppard: What is vulgar is what we are doing to injured workers. That's what's vulgar. Marianna Foster is an injured worker. She has a couple of words for you.
Ms Marianna Foster: You may find what I have to say not politically correct, or vulgar -- not swear words.
My name is Marianna Foster. Who am I? Well, I'm a worker. I'm a mother, a single parent, a crusher operator, a volunteer. I've been certified and mine-rescue trained. I'm captain of the mine first aid team, or I was a long time ago. I'm also a union member of Local 950 of the Steelworkers. I have a diploma in human resources, and I'm also an injured worker. I've been through the system and survived it.
Anybody awake? Just checking.
I've had medical procedures I didn't want, and I've had surgery that scared the hell out of me. I've been forced to move to Thunder Bay against my will. I had to take my son away from friends and family. Two years later, he still wants to go home. I've been partially paralysed and lost all control of my bladder and bowel functions for a considerable period of time due to my back injury. According to the chamber, that makes me lazy, right? If you ask my employer about me, he'll probably tell you he has a wonderful workplace and I'm just a "bad employee faking it." That's the way I've been made to feel.
I spent six weeks on light duty, stoned on painkillers, staring at a wall for eight hours a day to try and avoid a lost-time accident at my employer's request. I understand it's this committee's intention that I approach this employer hat in hand to grovel for benefits and assistance. Walk a mile in my shoes, friends, and then tell me that is fair. I'm ashamed to be hurt, and I didn't do anything wrong. I ask you, when a drunk driver hits your child, are you required to negotiate with the drunk to receive compensation? When a thief steals the contents of your home, do you have to negotiate your insurance through the thief? Yet a worker must negotiate with his employer for benefits. Is this the common sense I keep hearing about?
"Compensate chronic pain in accordance with guidelines for usual healing time as set out in a regulation." That sounds pretty good. I ask this committee to please inform me what the "usual healing time" for pain and paralysis of your privates is. While you're at it, how about the pricetag you attach to your sex life when you can't feel anything? That's all part of being an injured worker that maybe you don't hear about as often as you should. It's pretty private stuff, eh? Are you surprised to hear me talk about it in public? Not really. I see him raising an eyebrow: "Yeah, so what?" Well, somebody has to talk about this. This bill is about injured workers, not names and numbers. Even if you ignore us, we're not going away. We can't disappear because you deregulate us. Besides, why worry about trying to keep this stuff quiet? With your proposed changes, everybody and their dog will know about my private medical business.
While we're talking about private business, how about section 69? That was surely written by a joker, the phrase "submit to a medical exam." Submit? Just in case you forgot, I am a human being. I'll be -- ahem -- if I will be forced to submit to an exam by someone not of my choosing. That's a little over the line, I'd say. Last time I checked, this is my body, and I believe forcible submission is covered by the Criminal Code. Say, can you lay charges on that one? I wonder.
While we're there, this forcible submission thing you've been talking about is now going to be by a health professional. I looked up the definition because I wasn't sure. A "health professional" is defined as "a member of the college of a health profession as defined in the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991." Does that mean now you have the right to demand examination by a dentist of my backside? That's the way it reads, and I resent that.
I could go on for several hours about what is wrong with these changes from an injured worker's perspective, but time and dollars rule all, including this public hearing.
The board changed the title of the Workmen's Compensation Board to the Workers' Compensation Board to represent we women in the workplace, and now it's the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. Is that to represent the employers' needs and wants, to take the worker right out of WCB? That's the way it seems to me.
The mine I worked in is filled with beat-up miners with very little education, but these men are decent and know what's right. I don't believe the parties responsible for these changes are decent or know what is right. I'm not ashamed of being an injured worker any more, and I think you should stop trying to make injured workers ashamed.
My friend Tom Mackensie accepted bad employers and unsafe conditions as part of his job, just like you seem to and just like bad employers seem to. He couldn't be here today because he was killed at work a few years ago. He was decapitated. His friends and his co-workers carried him to the surface. I guess he's one of your statistics.
That's all I have to say. Thank you.
Mr Sheppard: If any of you are interested, I have here some pictures of toilets, taken underground at Goldcorp mine in Red Lake. We've been on strike there for 13 months. This might give you some idea of why we're on strike. I'd like you to have a look at this, because you want to give a whole lot of authority under the compensation act back to the employer. Have a look at these pictures and tell me whether you would depend upon this employer to give you anything.
The Chair: There are only two minutes remaining for questions. That means we'll go to the NDP caucus only for brief questions and answers.
Mr Hampton: Thank you very much, Moe and Marianna. Marianna, I want to direct this question to you, because I think you've brought something here today that may have been missing. You come from a small town and you've literally been forced to move to Thunder Bay. I wonder if you could talk about that, because my sense is that a whole bunch of workers from places like Kenora and Dryden and Sioux Lookout and Geraldton and Longlac and Manitouwadge and Terrace Bay probably have faced the same thing you're facing. Could you tell us why you had to leave?
Ms Foster: This isn't actually a female thing; this is a single-parent thing. Under compensation's rules, if you're a divorced or single parent and you want to retrain, you can't get an education in the north. Whether you want to retrain or not, you have to if you can't do your job. The option was that I should move somewhere where I could retrain. I said: "Can't I just retrain and then come home, like the workers who are married? Can't I come home to my own home, with my family, so my son can maybe have visits with my ex-husband like he's supposed to?" The end result was: "No. You're a single parent. You have no right to have any link with your home. You move." On top of that, at first they said: "We're not paying for your moving expenses. You just go ahead. You're an injured worker. Off you go and move to Thunder Bay." So here we are in Thunder Bay, moved here. Other people can visit home; we're not financed to visit home. If you do it, you do it on your own. But is it fair that I have to give up all ties because I hurt my back, because I had surgery, that now I don't have a home, I have to move? I don't think that anybody could see that as even remotely fair.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon. We appreciate your taking the time.
EMPLOYERS' ADVOCACY COUNCIL, NORTHWESTERN CHAPTER
The Chair: Calling representatives from the Employers' Advocacy Council, northwestern chapter. Mr Sweica, welcome. You have 20 minutes to make your presentation. You may use it all for a presentation or you may allow time for questions.
Mr Carmer Sweica: I would prefer to take this approach, if it's okay with the committee: The presentation as given to you is fairly lengthy and I don't want to go through it all, but I do have some points I would like to bring up and maybe give you some things to think about over and above what we've given in this document. Is that all right with you, Madam Chair?
The Chair: You do as you wish.
Mr Sweica: First of all, we compliment the government for looking at WCB and making some changes, because they're long-overdue. I would first of all like to give you some idea of my background.
I'm representing the northwestern chapter of EAC, the Employers' Advocacy Council. I'm on their policy committee. I was on their executive for almost 10 years, up till last year. I'm also with COCA. You've heard from COCA, probably, the Council of Ontario Construction Associations. I've been on their WCB committee since 1985, I think it was, and still am. I'm also, and was, director of the CSAO, the Council of Safety Associations of Ontario. I've been on the provincial labour-management committee for quite a number of years. I'm also a past member on the board of directors for WCB, until we were fired in November 1995. I have also been a member of the board of directors on the Workplace Health and Safety Agency. I come here with that background.
As I mentioned, I compliment the government for taking a look at the WCB, its act and what it's going to do, because it has been our feeling, my feeling too, that it's long overdue. There are a lot of things in there that should be corrected.
One of the things is sustainability of the system. This concerned the board members when we were there, that we were going deeper and deeper into the hole. There is roughly $10 billion difference now of an unfunded liability. Sure, we've got $8 billion in assets, but we also have liabilities to the extent of almost $11 billion for future payments to injured workers. That has to be looked after. If something isn't done to correct the system so that we don't go in the hole every year -- except for the last two years where some concentrated effort has been made at the board level to cut back on costs and so on -- the system will bankrupt itself.
You know, $11 billion is a hell of a lot of money, and it concerns us. That's one of the reasons the purpose clause was put in, because it wasn't there before: the accountability for the financial welfare of the system. If we go broke, everybody pays. Under the system being proposed, we're starting to get some moneys back. It's just like in the federal government. You're talking about deficits and the debt. We're trying to get out of this deficit situation, and it's happening. Now we have to attack the debt.
Under the present system, we're paying current claims out of the fund and there is some money left over to go against the unfunded liability. We have to do that on a continual basis. In order to do that, employers have to contribute to this situation as well as the workers. The workers, of course, are being reduced from 90% to 85%. That's one of the reasons for it. I'll leave it at that on that one.
The other one I'd like to address -- it's just a moot point, but it might be something for the members of the committee to think about. That's the memorandum of understanding under section 160. I believe and the council believes that it is very important, the type of memorandum of understanding that has developed between the board and the Ministry of Labour. There is one section you might want to look at, and that's subsection 160(3), which says, "The board must give the minister an annual statement of its investment policies and goals."
Something has happened in the last four or five months that makes me question whether that's possible, because now that investment has been taken out of the board and is being directed by outside sources. You all understand that. The investment committee was fired, basically, by the administration of the board. I don't know how that will attach itself to the act. The investment policies and goals: You give it to outside sources, and sure, you can give them some sort of guidelines, but will they go within those guidelines? I have some concerns about that. Maybe you want to address that.
One of the other concerns we have, and it isn't spelled out anywhere in the legislation, is the consultation process. When I was there, we as a bipartite board tried our darnedest to consult with the employer community and with the labour community on any policies coming before the board of directors. We did it, and we tried to keep it as open as possible, because it is a public institution and everybody should be aware of what's going on. The board does not know everything, so some input should come from the labour side, as well as the employer side. I don't know how it's going to be done, whether it's through the memorandum of understanding or whether it's in legislation or what. But I think a consultation process should be put into effect.
Right now, we don't know what the board is doing. At least we don't, and I don't think the labour side knows. These policies are coming down and nobody knows about it until they're put into effect. There is no consultation. It was relayed to me that somebody from the board indicated that in the past consultation didn't work. I'm sorry, but it did work.
My background is in construction. I've been pushing this construction thing quite a bit at the board level and with the Ministry of Labour. As we all know, construction is a unique industry. We're dealing, basically, with hiring halls, where it's not your employee; it's the employee of the hiring hall. That compounds some problems.
The government realizes that there are some problems here. I believe COCA has addressed that to you on return to work. I was on the 165 committee that tried to develop a return to work for construction workers who were injured. We spent almost two years trying to develop something that didn't work, really. But hopefully, with the proposals now before the minister and this committee, it may work now. I think you should have a good look at that, because the construction industry as a whole would like to see workers return to work as quickly as possible and in a timely fashion.
Three-day waiting period: I know it was in the government's Common Sense Revolution that this three-day waiting period was indicated, but there's nothing in the legislation that says so. The EAC recommends that the three-day waiting period be looked at again, with the exception that the three-day waiting period take effect the day after the accident. In other words, if you're hurt at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, then you get paid for that day, and then you wait another three days. This is basic insurance policy in most cases.
The other thing that bothers me is that there doesn't seem to be a definition for small business, really. This was brought up, I know, when I was at the agency. At the agency, as you know, we were talking about 20 people or about 50 or whatever it was; everybody has a different idea of what small business is and there are definitions all over the place. There's no consistency here.
It would behove this committee to make some recommendations as to what small business is, because we all talk "small business" but nobody seems to define what small business is, how many people, things of that nature. I know the board has different ideas of what small business is. The CFIB has a different idea of what small business is. This legislation mentions 20 people. I know that in occupational health and safety, recommendations will be coming down that small business should be maybe 50 or less. That is another item that should be addressed by the government so there's consistency through all the legislation.
As far as WCAT is concerned, we have no problem with what the government is saying. It's shown on pages 20 and 21. I don't want to go through it, but we like what we're hearing. At the board level, when decisions were made we had a very difficult time trying to resolve some of the situations that came in from WCAT. We didn't want to use a section 93 -- that's the old one, I think -- where we would have to do a dog-and-pony show. It happened once. It was very costly and time-consuming and is not the way to go. We agree with the government that what it's proposing in Bill 99 should go into effect; in other words, rule on policies, don't make policy.
Another very small item, section 49, where it refers to the CPI, reads:
"...is the amount of the percentage change in the consumer price index for Canada for all items, for the 12-month period ending on October 31...."
Maybe I'm half cocked but I believe there is a CPI for Ontario. Shouldn't they be looking at Ontario? Things change from province to province, as we all know, and cities are more expensive in certain areas, so obviously we should not be looking at Canada. Because we're talking about Ontario's system, we should be talking about an Ontario CPI, not an average Canadian. It could be higher or lower, I don't know, but it's something to think about.
The other thing, and this is my personal opinion: WCB, we're trying to make amendments to it and we're going to try to make amendments to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. What about putting the two acts together? As we know, the Workplace Health and Safety Agency is under the WCB, preventive, yet Occupational Health and Safety addresses a lot of these problems too, so we have two acts that we're dealing with. Why not combine the two and then you have everything under one roof? Then we have the preventive as well as the other parts of this Occupational Health and Safety Act. That's just another thought.
The Chair: I'd just like to let you know there's about one minute left in presentation time.
Mr Sweica: The other thing: When a person gets injured and goes to the hospital, the costs run through the system and eventually get back to WCB. My question is: With the hospitals the way they are going nowadays, how do they budget for WCB revenue? I've asked this question of a number of hospital administrators and they said they don't. So it's all gravy. I may be wrong, but it's something to look at.
I was going to bring up some other point that --
The Chair: That's actually at the end of your time. As with any other presenter, if you have further thoughts you're always welcome to present them in writing to the members of the committee further on. With that, thank you very much for your presentation. We appreciate your taking the time and lending your advice to us.
ONTARIO PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYEES' UNION
The Chair: I'd like to now call upon representatives from OPSEU, Pat Shearer and Peter Lang. Good afternoon and welcome.
Ms Pat Shearer: My name is Pat Shearer and I'm with OPSEU. I'd like to introduce my co-worker Peter Lang, who is also with OPSEU.
Once again the Ontario government is showing its true colours. In its ongoing assault on fairness and decency for working people and their families it is gutting every piece of legislation that protects us. Make no mistake, Bill 99 is part of that shameful legacy.
Bill 99 will slash the benefits of injured workers. It will cut their entitlement to fair compensation for injuries inflicted on them at work. At the same time it gives enormous arbitrary power over injured workers to employers. It transfers billions of dollars in compensation money that belongs to injured workers to the treasuries of their employers.
OPSEU members are appalled by this government's attempt to ram this legislation through the Legislature without full public debate. On their behalf, our union comes before the committee in protest. It's clear to us that we no longer have a democratic government in Ontario. This is not a government which governs in the interests of the greater public good. This is a government that rules the many in the interests of the few.
Democratic government is about consultation, it's about ensuring the people have a voice in decisions that affect their lives and it's about balance and fairness. Such lack of openness only reflects this government's contempt for the public and its real fear that an open debate blows its cover of deception. Have no doubt about it, this proposed legislation and the government's media spin are about deceit and deception.
In the expectation that if you tell a big lie often enough, people will eventually believe it, the government has portrayed this legislation in a number of ways. Employers and the government have deceived the public into believing that Ontario's compensation system is in a financial crisis and that employer premiums were placing us at a competitive disadvantage. They have also engaged in the worst form of victim-blaming by portraying injured workers as an overcompensated, lazy lot living off the system who are probably faking their injuries. They blame injured workers for the WCB's fictitious financial crisis and its impact on our economy. But nothing could be further from the truth.
In truth, the board is not in debt and has not had to borrow a dime in its 80-year history. This is a corporation that showed a $510-million profit in 1995, has $8 billion in assets and has a funding ratio that has steadily risen to 42% of its future liabilities. In truth, Ontario's employers enjoy WCB premiums which are lower than two thirds of North American jurisdictions. In fact, if employers were paying what they should have and if all employers in the province were paying into the fund, there would be no unfunded liability at all.
The truth is that Bill 99 is not about a financial crisis, it is not about positive social change and it is certainly not about prevention. So what is Bill 99 really about? It's about allowing employers to get away with not living up to their responsibilities for the injury and disease they cause; it's about rewarding them with rate reductions at the expense of their workers' benefits and entitlements; and it's about offloading the real cost of workplace carnage on to the taxpayers.
Just where do you think these human beings will go when they cannot work or when their benefits are so reduced that they will be unable to provide the barest necessities of life for themselves and their families? I'll tell you where they'll go. They'll wind up on the welfare rolls, in the psychiatric wards, on the streets and in our jails, and it's the taxpaying citizens of Ontario who will pick up the cost of these services and the resulting social problems. The savings from these efficiencies are a deception. The only people to benefit from this legislation are the employers who are being let off the hook for the injuries and disease they cause in the workplace. It is they who will gain billions of dollars from the transfer of this compensation money.
Bill 99 breaks the historic compromise made by workers and employers in 1914. Workers gave up their right to sue their employers for work-related injuries in return for a no-fault system that gave them the right to full compensation for injuries suffered at work. Employers, for their part, were protected from any legal liability for workplace accidents and diseases in exchange for fully funding the cost of this system. But with Bill 99 that historic compromise between worker and employer is dead and buried.
The Conservative government has come down firmly on the side of the employer. Bill 99 will deny workers' rights, suppress claims, limit compensation and gut fairness in order to relieve employers of their obligations and reward them with rate reductions. Under Bill 99 workers' benefits are under attack from all angles. Benefits will be reduced from 90% of a worker's loss of earnings to 85%. Pension contributions for workers with permanent disabilities will be cut in half, so injured workers are more likely to be impoverished in their old age.
The board will have a new discretion to reduce a worker's benefit on the basis of his or her pattern of employment. Seasonal workers will receive lower benefits regardless of their true loss of earning capacity. OPSEU represents these seasonal workers, from provincial park rangers to food inspectors. On behalf of those members we are strongly opposed to this attack on their right to full compensation for work-related injuries.
By removing the definition of "earnings and wages," Bill 99 gives the board expanded discretion to undervalue workers' pre-accident earnings. Non-monetary forms of remuneration will not necessarily be counted in determining a worker's loss of earnings. The board will be free to ignore such items as employer-paid long-term disability premiums, pension supplements and meals provided by the employer.
The most significant attack on the injured worker's right to full compensation in Bill 99 is de-indexing. In the mid-1970's the Conservative government recognized that without inflation, protection for the real value of injured workers' benefits was being driven into the ground. They began increasing pensions on an ad hoc basis with reference to the consumer price index, and in 1985 enshrined full indexation in the Worker's Compensation Act.
While Bill 99 continues full indexing for workers with 100% disability awards, it removes full protection for workers injured before 1990 who receive a special supplement because they are permanently unemployable and their benefits unjustifiably low. Bill 99 slashes inflation protection for most workers with permanent disabilities. Many of these workers rely on partial pensions to support themselves and their families. While the change in the indexing formula may appear slight on paper, its impact on the workers will be cumulative and severe.
The Jackson report projected that this change alone would deliver over $9 billion in savings in the next 17 years. Minister Witmer has been clear that the purpose of this cut is to reduce the unfunded liability. In other words, this government is stealing $9 billion from the pockets of injured workers and using it to cover the cost of insufficient employer assessments. As if this were not enough, the government gives employers a 5% across-the-board rate reduction, which transfers even more compensation money to employers and will only prolong the unfunded liability.
The proposed Workplace Safety and Insurance Act is particularly vicious in its attack on workers who suffer from stress and chronic pain disabilities. Under the act, these workers are treated with suspicion and disrespect. Their rights to compensation are limited or completely denied regardless of the real merits and justice of their claim. Stress is a serious occupational hazard which can cause very real temporary or permanent disabilities. OPSEU represents many of the workers in Ontario who are most at risk for stress and related injuries.
Workers in psychiatric hospitals and correctional facilities face dangerously high levels of stress as a result of understaffing, overcrowding, insufficient training, shift work; and hostile atmospheres, including harassment and violent assaults by patients and inmates. Workers in ambulance services who have to deal with enormous human suffering and mangled bodies and corpses are in a constant race to save people's lives and work long and irregular shifts.
Under Bill 99, if these workers suffer injuries related to the hazardous levels of stress on the job, they will be denied compensation out of hand without regard to the facts or available medical evidence in their cases. The only exception applies to workers who suffer from an acute reaction to a sudden, unexpected traumatic event. This is an extremely narrow and complex exception. There is no guarantee that workers in psychiatric hospitals, correctional facilities or ambulance services won't be denied on the basis that they must expect traumatic events in the course of their employment.
Even if workers manage to jump this severe legal hurdle, their claims will be denied if their stress was caused by their employer's decisions or actions relating to the worker's employment. This would include assignments, conditions of work, discipline and termination, nearly all the things that cause them stress in the first place. In addition, workers who suffer from stress-related illnesses as a result of sexual or racial harassment by their employer will be denied any compensation.
Workers who suffer from disabling chronic pain syndrome will be at the mercy of arbitrary board regulations. Under the proposed scheme, workers who do not heal within the so-called "usual" time for their injury will be dumped into a pain management program for a maximum of four weeks. Following their participation in the board's quick-fix pain clinic, they will be denied any compensation for health care costs or their loss of earnings. Some workers won't qualify for the four-week program; their benefits can be terminated immediately upon reaching the usual healing time for their injury.
Chronic pain syndrome is a medically recognized condition which can be traced to the original workplace injury. Frequently the result of soft tissue and repetitive strain injuries, it is affecting a growing number of workers. Women are particularly vulnerable to these injuries due to their concentration in small-scale manufacturing and office work.
The suffering of these injured workers is real whether the government recognizes it or not. Chronic pain can leave workers barely able to move, to sleep, to take care of their children, their homes and it often leads to severe depression and family breakdown. If the government gives employers a free ride on their responsibility for these workers, the taxpayer will end up with the bill through welfare.
While Bill 99 limits or excludes the claims of workers with mental stress and chronic pain disabilities, it does nothing to restore their right to sue their employer. For these workers, the historic bargaining of workers' compensation is dead. They have no right to sue and no right to full compensation. The provisions of Bill 99 on mental stress and chronic pain are clearly unconstitutional. Bill 99 singles out workers with mental stress and chronic pain disorders for special limits and exclusions. It discriminates against them as compared to people with other disabilities. In passing this legislation, the government is therefore inviting costly and unnecessary litigation at taxpayer expense.
Bill 99 makes it harder for workers to start claims and easier for employers to suppress them. Workers will have to initiate claims using a form available from their employer. This gives employers more opportunities to coax or threaten workers out of making a claim. Experience rating provides a proven incentive to manipulate statistics by suppressing claims. The fewer accidents reported, the larger the employer's experience-rating kickback.
Unorganized workers, workers with language barriers and workers with literacy problems will be severely disadvantaged by the requirement to seek out and complete written forms in English. The current system of allowing doctors to initiate claims is a far more effective way of ensuring that an injured worker will be connected with the compensation system.
There is no justification for the introduction of a six-month time limit for making claims. Under Bill 99, hundreds of injured workers with valid claims may be denied benefits on the basis of an arbitrary rule every year. Workers who fail to report an accident because of employer harassment, including fear of dismissal, will be shut out; workers who tough it out despite the pain, because they are dedicated to their jobs, will be shut out; workers with complex injuries and occupational diseases that take time to diagnose and connect to the workplace will be shut out; and workers who don't know their rights because they are unorganized, or because they face language and cultural barriers, will be shut out.
As with many other provisions in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, the 6-month time limit will reduce claims without reducing accidents. The proposed act is a government shell game aimed to create the illusion of a safe workplace by ignoring the suffering of injured workers.
Minister Witmer claims that the proposed Workplace Safety and Insurance Act promotes a timely and safe return to work. In truth, the act encourages employer harassment and coercion of injured workers to return to work before they have healed. This will inevitably result in serious aggravations and re-injuries.
Under Bill 99, injured workers and their employers are required to establish immediate and continuous contact following an accident. Rather than encouraging productive communication, workers fear that this will provide employers with an excuse to harass them and their families at home while they recover.
The act requires employers to arrange for the worker to return to suitable work as quickly as possible. The decision as to what constitutes suitable work will rest entirely in the hands of the employer. Their only guidance will be a single-page functional abilities form completed by the worker's physician. Employers may order workers to return too quickly or to an inappropriate and dangerous job. Workers must cooperate with their employer's demands or risk losing their benefits.
Experience rating provides an incentive for employers to abuse their expanded control over the return to work. Employers who limit their lost time claims by pushing workers back on the job, whether it be to work that is too strenuous or to pointless make-work tasks, will be rewarded with larger experience rating kickbacks.
All this will happen without the board's involvement or supervision. Only after a dispute arises will the board interfere, and by then it will be too late for the workers, who will inevitably suffer re-injuries and aggravations as a result of the employer's abuses and the board's neglect.
Finally, our members are not taken in by the minister's commitment to make Ontario's workplaces among the safest in the world. How could we be? Everything we have witnessed so far shows the government is intent on destroying our whole health care legacy.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to accept these verbal commitments as a true reflection of the government's motives and intentions in view of the fact that the ministry recently reduced health and safety certification training requirements; gutted the Ministry of Labour's occupational health program by laying off occupational health nurses and physicians, industrial hygienists, engineers and all the technicians and speciality staff; closed the occupational health laboratory and library; and disbanded the toxic substance standard-setting committee.
These initiatives have reduced the ministry's capacity to effectively administer and enforce the Occupational Health and Safety Act and drive prevention programs.
More recently, the minister introduced her discussion paper for an overhaul of the Occupational Health and Safety Act that contemplates massive deregulation of protective standards, relieves employers of their specific duties to protect workers and abolishes many of the protective rights workers now enjoy.
In connection with the changes proposed in Bill 99, we can only conclude that the government and its supporters in the employer community see workers as expendable Canadians, for in truth these legislative initiatives are a licence to kill and maim workers.
On behalf of the members of the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union, we call on the government to withdraw the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act immediately.
The Chair: Thank you for your presentation. Unfortunately, there is no time for questions.
DRYDEN AND DISTRICT INJURED WORKERS' SUPPORT GROUP
The Chair: I'd like to now call upon representatives from the Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group, please. I believe it's Mr Bourré. Good afternoon.
Mr Art Bourré: We appreciate the opportunity to appear before the committee. We're not here on an adversarial note and you'll probably see it from our submission. We're here to present our concerns and it's only fair to tell you that I and my colleague wear two hats.
I am the chairman of the Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group, which represents both unionized and non-union injured workers' groups. I am also the worker compensation rep for my local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Mr Ed Gibbins: I'm Ed Gibbins. I also belong to the Dryden chapter of the injured workers' group, yet I'm here because of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Local 105, for Avenor in Dryden. That's why we have two submissions.
Mr Bourré: I will try to go through this as fast as possible without rushing anybody, and I would like to start with the introduction.
This submission represents the collective views and concerns of the members of the Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group on the proposed changes to the Workers' Compensation Act contained in the Workers' Compensation Reform Act, 1996.
The Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group has long held the view that a revamping of the Workers' Compensation Act is long overdue, and is therefore not opposed to change. The group is, however, opposed to change just for the sake of change, and to change that is unilateral in concept, benefit and delivery.
The concerns of the Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group are generated from the following sources: New Directions for Workers' Compensation Reform, report of the Honourable Cam Jackson, minister without portfolio responsible for workers' compensation reform; Workers' Compensation Reform Act, 1996; Workers' Compensation Board's delivery of service, past and present; hands-on experience of our group with the board and government.
No one gains when an act is prejudicial towards a particular group, whether it be employers or workers. It is therefore the consensus of the Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group that any reform that takes place must be fair to all stakeholders. In order for that to occur, all stakeholders must be consulted and have an active and meaningful role in the forming of a new act.
The lack of resources allows for our submission to focus only on what we consider to be the most important areas of reform and the most serious defects of the proposed Bill 99. It is with this in mind that the Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group makes this submission.
New Directions for Workers' Compensation Reform: The report of the Honourable Cam Jackson, Minister without Portfolio responsible for workers' compensation reform, starts with the introduction:
"This report represents the findings and directions resulting from the comprehensive review of the workers' compensation system conducted by the Honourable Cam Jackson, Minister without Portfolio responsible for workers' compensation reform. The report delivers a reform package that will fundamentally reshape Ontario's workers' compensation system and the role the workplace parties play within the system. Based on Minister Jackson's findings, these reforms will preserve fair and secure benefits for the injured workers of today and tomorrow by eliminating the unfunded liability by the year 2014 and restoring the financial viability of the Workers' Compensation Board (the WCB); streamlining administration and significantly improving service delivery for workers and employers; and refocusing the system to encourage worker and employer self-reliance.
"At the same time, these reforms will allow the government to remove significant barriers to job creation and economic competitiveness by keeping its commitment to lower WCB assessment rates.
"The report is divided into three broad sections. Each section provides a brief analysis of problems, summarizes the feedback from the consultation process and recommends new directions for the workers' compensation system."
The goals the Honourable Cam Jackson promises will be achieved by implementing the reforms he suggests are very noble indeed. There is, however, a very fundamental flaw. The changes recommended by the Honourable Cam Jackson are designed to achieve, almost uniformly, the exact opposite result to what are stated as his goals.
The Honourable Cam Jackson claims that his study is comprehensive, all-encompassing, but on examination one can find little evidence of that being the case. There is, however, ample evidence to the contrary. This in itself severely damages the credibility of the report.
There is only one stated goal in the report that will be served by the changes to the workers' compensation system in Ontario recommended by the Honourable Cam Jackson. It is the government's commitment to lower WCB rates. Nowhere in this report can be found an increased benefit to injured workers in Ontario. Significant loss of benefits and service delivery to injured workers can be found throughout.
The Honourable Cam Jackson makes it clear in his report that he has little or no understanding of the problems faced by the injured workers of Ontario in dealing with the present compensation system. The Honourable Mr Jackson has instead recommended increasing the number of obstacles facing the injured workers of Ontario in accessing fair and secure benefits.
Unfunded liability: The Honourable Cam Jackson has identified the unfunded liability of the Workers' Compensation Board as being the most pressing problem facing the viability of the workers' compensation system in Ontario. The keys to this problem are the words "unfunded liability." What constitutes an unfunded liability? In fact all accountants have problems in identifying liabilities and assets, especially if they are projected or possible future liabilities or assets. How they are determined, as a rule, is from where you sit and what picture you wish to paint the situation.
The next problem faced in examining this report is to determine the position of the Honourable Cam Jackson and what picture he is trying to paint. The key to this can be found in the Report to the Workers' Compensation Secretariat on the Financial Position and Funding Strategy of the Workers' Compensation Board of Ontario prepared by William M. Mercer Ltd, 161 Bay Street, PO Box 501, Toronto, Ontario, M5J 2S5, dated January 26, 1996, and this is included in the Honourable Cam Jackson's report.
The picture the Honourable Cam Jackson is trying to paint can be viewed and evaluated in the first paragraphs of the executive summary of the above report.:
"The terms of reference for this actuarial report include an evaluation of the current funding strategy used by the Ontario Workers' Compensation Board. The purpose of this strategy is to pre-fund the cost of new injuries, cover current administrative costs and amortize the existing unfunded liability.
"An illustration demonstrates that, in theory, the unfunded liability can be liquidated by determining an amortization payment that is expressed as a level percentage of increasing payroll as is done currently. However, in practice, several of the critical underlying assumptions probably will not be realized with the result that a significant unfunded liability will remain in the year 2014."
This is an admission that the Workers' Compensation Board is on the right track with their funding strategy; in theory, that is. However, if you read further, the words "probably will not be realized" is just theory also. This is not a hard and fast statement of irrefutable fact.
We are now back at the problem of identifying the picture the Honourable Cam Jackson is trying to paint. It is now very clear. The intent is to create an illusion of a financial crisis that does not exist.
Streamlining administration and significantly improving service delivery for workers and employers: Streamlining administration and improving service delivery has long been a goal of injured workers, but so far it has been, in reality, only a dream. The changes recommended by the Honourable Cam Jackson make that more than a dream now; it can now legitimately claim the honour of being called a pipedream.
This submission can only use the collective experience of the members of the Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group as to the delivery of services by the Workers' Compensation Board of Ontario. Primarily this is the Thunder Bay office as it is the office of initial contact.
On the whole, once a claim is submitted, the response is quite fast. It is in the latter stages of a claim that most problems are encountered. It is only fair to say that not all claims encounter problems and that the areas encountered are not the same for every claim. It is also fair to say that not all problems are the fault of the Workers' Compensation Board. Our group has identified the lack of understanding of the mandate of the Workers' Compensation Board and how it functions in carrying out that mandate as the chief problem in the processing of claims and the delivery of services. It has been our experience that injured workers are not alone, that many Workers' Compensation Board employees have the same problem.
Another problem is one of personalities. How well a claim is handled can be the result of the luck of the draw. How the claims adjudicator views injured workers can play a significant role in the processing of a claim and the delivery of services. It is a credit to the board that this happens only in a small number of cases; however, to the claimant it can become a problem of monumental proportions and can have very tragic consequences. We have experienced suicides because of this, so we do mean tragic.
There is another fundamental reason why we find little fault with the front-line workers employed by the WCB. One of the first truths that is taught in business administration and human resources management is that how an organization deals with the public, its customers -- in other words, the method and policies it uses to conduct its business -- is formed and is a direct reflection of the attitude at the top of the corporate structure which then trickles to the bottom.
Another group that has a significant effect on the processing of claims and can be a major point of contention is the medical profession. The problem here is that doctors are overworked and resent having to fill out the myriad of forms facing them from the Workers' Compensation Board. Physicians fill out forms in the briefest of terms, resulting in incomplete documentation of the injury. This, in many cases, has little or no immediate impact on the claim but can have major ramifications for the claimant as he or she grows older and the injury more troublesome.
Another problem area is in the return-to-work and vocational rehabilitation process. This is proving to be a major problem for the injured worker and has the potential to be a major source of unloading service delivery and liability upon the municipalities.
Injured workers have experienced very poor service delivery in vocational rehabilitation and increased harassment on the part of employers. Many are being pushed into training for vocations for which they have little or no aptitude and for which there is little or no prospect for work. The result of this is that the injured worker, once a productive, proud member of society, is left with little or no compensation, on welfare, living below the poverty line. When this happens, the liability has effectively been downloaded to the community which has no mandate or ability to pre-fund this liability.
When it comes to the delivery of service, we see opportunities for abuse increase with every amendment we read. Injured workers are almost always the recipients of abuse in the system. We know collectively the abuses of the system, who the abusers are and how they carry out their abuse. We have no more love for a worker who abuses the system than for an employer or a WCB worker who abuses the system. We have even more contempt for a process that totally ignores us, the largest single stakeholder group, in having the unmitigated gall to declare that they know better than we do what is best for us.
The Dryden and District Injured Workers' Support Group is concerned about this report and proposed legislation, because although we see occasional reference to injured workers, we see little or no evidence that the concerns of these injured workers are being addressed. An area may be jointly identified, but the solution does little or nothing to obtain a joint resolution.
New directions? Old directions? No directions? The Honourable Cam Jackson outlines in his report what he considers to be new directions. There are new directions, but they are not what he identifies. We find them to be practices and policies already in use by the employers and WCB. What the new act does is legitimize these practices and what we consider, in many cases, corporate abuse of the present system. We will first deal with the Honourable Cam Jackson's new directions and then we will identify what we consider to be the real new directions.
Requiring workers to apply for compensation is not new. What is new is the wording. Workers have always had to report injuries and fill out a report before the claim process was started. The worker was always required to make the initial step. What is new is the fact that WCB can now choose to ignore compensable injuries until the injured worker directly applies for benefits. This does not require workplace parties to assume greater responsibility for the compensation process. It places greater responsibility on one party only: the injured worker. It is worthy to note here that this places the worker in greater danger of intimidation from the employer than do the present existing conditions.
Direct payment is not a new concept and is commonly found in labour agreements. The duration varies, but it is not uncommon for the period of direct payments and benefits to extend for a period of one year. Under most labour agreements for direct payment, there is no reduction in pay or benefit. Placing the level of pay at WCB levels is an immediate reduction in wages and benefits as compared to most labour agreements.
Six weeks is a relatively short period and will do next to nothing towards maintaining the workplace connection and re-employment, which is the stated goal. A period of one year would be more credible in achieving the stated goals.
The Chair: Excuse me. I should let you know that you have about a minute left in your presentation time.
Mr Bourré: I'll move on to what we figure the new direction is. Perhaps the most important is the introduction of private insurance. The door is being opened for a takeover by the private insurance sector, which even the employers are sceptical of. One only has to look at the American experience to realize that this will only increase the employers' and injured workers' costs. This will facilitate the need for every worker to carry private insurance to cover the areas that the employer's insurance will not cover.
Private insurance is always tailored to the purchaser's specifications and is noted not for what it covers but for what it does not cover. The intimidation, harassment and stalling tactics of private insurance companies are commonly known to all workers, and it is not a reputation founded on myth.
If you look at our submission, we have conclusions and we have solutions. Our primary solution -- you can find it in the executive summary -- is that we're proposing that a judiciary commission be set up to do the bargaining process, because we feel this is the only fair way to do it for every party in this process. We would like to see that outside influences, such as political and insurance companies and things like that, that don't have a stake in the process, other than commercial gain -- we figure this is the only place in Canada where we have an autonomous group we can trust. It's worthy to note that even some of the judges now are beginning to feel that they're threatened.
We ask that you take a look. We placed three solutions. We have Bill 99 as not being a solution because we find it too greatly flawed to consider, and that's not only our case. If you read our report, we consider this is a real threat to small business too.
The Chair: Thank you very much. You have a thoughtful report here and I'm sure committee members will take the time to read it through carefully. I appreciate your taking the time this afternoon.
The Chair: I now call Mr Ernest Craik. Good afternoon, sir, and welcome.
Mr Ernest Craik: Thank you. I am very happy to be here. As you'll note on my cover page, this was intended to be submitted as just a written submission, because I hadn't received presenter status. Thanks to the work of the Injured Workers Resource Centre here in Thunder Bay, yesterday afternoon at 1:20 pm it was confirmed that I would get this slot today. I have 27 pages here; I assure you that I have no intention of covering the last two sections at all.
I am not associated with the Kenora Community Legal Clinic officially, but you will find a past association with the clinic, and you'll find some of my past history. I'm going to skip over parts of these first two pages because I want to leave some time for questions. I'm going to go down to about the third paragraph on the first page.
Before I go into detail on my opinion of the proposed repeal of the current Workers' Compensation Act and its replacement, I want to offer some information on my work as an injured workers' advocate. It has been my experience that most union locals in this area of northwestern Ontario seem to be far too reluctant in helping injured workers who experience difficulty with a WCB claim. A number of years ago, when the union I had membership in refused to help one of its members with a disputed claim, I determined that I would do everything within my power to prove that the reluctance to provide help was morally wrong and contrary to trade union principles. It wasn't long until I had enough support from my fellow members to have the policy changed. As often happens in successful but not necessarily popular campaigns, I was assigned the responsibility of providing the help. It wasn't an onerous task, because most of the injuries were minor and accepted as work-related by the employer or covered up through a modified work program. It was the more serious type that left the worker with a permanent disability that created problems.
In 1989, after having worked 42 years in the forest products industry in Ontario -- 10 years in pulpwood logging and 32 years in a paper mill -- I retired from paid employment. It was three months short of my 65th birthday. Prior to my retirement I had determined that I wanted to become a volunteer worker in the community. I had the hospital in mind, but I wasn't very successful persuading them to implement a program. When the Kenora Community Legal Clinic -- this is where they come into the picture; that's an Ontario legal aid clinic -- learned that I had some experience, they persuaded me to join the staff and assist their lawyer there. There was a great backlog, a number of WCB cases. There was a contract of service drawn up, approved by the Toronto office of the Ontario legal aid plan, and I was to be paid $1 a year.
It was in the fall of 1989 that the lawyer took very ill and there was some question if she would ever return to work. The position was put to me, would I be willing to take all the legal clinic's compensation casework from that point on? If I wasn't, the clinic would discontinue providing that service. I took on this task and it became very steady employment for the next five or five and a half years, assisting the industrially disabled. It also gave me access to a lot of information I wouldn't normally have had.
In March 1995 I tendered my resignation from this employment. Actually, not only the legal clinic, but the Injured Workers Support Group had been formed in Kenora. I was secretary-treasurer but also did all their compensation casework, which found me working 50 hours, often more, in a week. As I said, the legal aid plan was getting good value for its dollar a year, no question about it. Now I want to get into the act a little bit.
Does the minister's proposed legislation offer me new hope? I regret to say it doesn't. It is far from what is needed in our modern and complex society.
The figures I've seen recently indicate that 30% or more of the workers in Ontario are not covered under the current act, and I do not see anything in the minister's proposal to make coverage universal. The nature of work is changing. The once so-called safe work, ie, banking, insurance, veterinary clinics and some types of entertainment, are still exempt from compulsory coverage, yet the repetitive nature of much of this work is causing disabilities.
The minister insists that the proposed new legislation will put a far greater emphasis on prevention, and certainly this is a desirable objective endorsed by all. It is also one that has great potential, but it is not an end in itself.
One of my most stressful cases for both the worker and myself of bureaucratic bungling concerned a seasonal part-time tree nursery worker whose bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome condition took three years to be recognized as compensable and an additional two years to have the hearing officer's decision implemented. Reform is needed.
The Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal has an ongoing bank employee's appeal that it at first felt it had to deny, since bank employees are not compulsorily covered under the current act; it couldn't propose any solution. When a Supreme Court of Canada case came to its attention, offering solutions for resolving cases brought under the Charter of Rights, the tribunal panel agreed to reconsider its original decision. If a final decision has been reached in this unusual case, it hasn't come to my attention.
The minister's proposed legislation is no help in this area. It will restrict the rights of the appeals tribunal to be independently minded. The most charitable way I can think of to express my displeasure with this part of Bill 99 is to call this a regressive step. In my opinion, it will do nothing in the area of prevention.
I was a subscriber to the provincial Hansard from 1968 to 1995. During that long period of time, there was very little said in the Legislature and standing committees that dealt with workers' compensation issues that I missed reading. In a separate purchase, I obtained all but the final two or three issues of the standing committee debate on Bill 165. At the time, the current Minister of Labour was the opposition critic on that committee. As I read the debate -- and I read them not day to day; I read them all one after the other, after the debate had all taken place -- I wondered what kind of advice she was getting as critic from her advisers. She seemed to have a lack of understanding of what workers' compensation is all about. After studying Bill 99, I still feel that way.
When the Royal Commission on Workers' Compensation was abolished, I wrote the Honourable Cam Jackson, Minister without Portfolio responsible for workers' compensation reform. In my letter, I went into some detail on how I felt the system could be improved, not only provincially but nationally as well.
A copy of my letter, along with Mr Jackson's brief response and the Minister of Labour's more detailed response, are attached to this submission. I have no intention of going into it, because it's quite repetitive. The Jackson letter is a very long letter. A lot of the stuff in that letter is in this, but it's part of the submission to you people.
There is one issue I want to emphasize. I don't know how many people are familiar with Terrence G. Ison. Here is a proposal not only for compensation systems for injury or disease provincially, but a blueprint for a national plan, and that is what I'm here promoting today. Three years ago, he published -- I've gone into some detail in my Jackson letter. There is the solution, not Bill 99. As I said in here, he offers sensible long-term solutions to a problem that has been with us for a long time and which, in my opinion, Bill 99 doesn't even begin to address.
With the views I've just expressed, there's little point in my going into much detail on the 13 sections contained in Bill 99. In many areas it merely repeats what is already in the existing act.
I share to some small extent the minister's concern with the actuarial debt. This is due in part to my personal lifestyle. I've never had a credit card of any kind, and except for one short-term loan, six months, of $1,000, I've never personally used borrowed money, so I'm not one of these who out and say, "We'll borrow it."
I take some encouragement from two recent WCB annual financial statements that show the actuarial debt declining. I certainly do not endorse the minister's proposal to reduce the benefit rate. A better alternative would be to collect the assessed rate from all employers and expand coverage to 100% of the workforce.
Also, NEER should be abolished. That revenue-neutral penalties will offset? Well, certainly not according to the annual report. The penalties are certainly not offsetting the income. A better alternative, as I said, is to collect the 100%. My experience in the workplace did nothing to convince me that NEER was effective in reducing the number of industrial injuries.
What I saw was the coverup of a lot of minor injuries -- the term I often used with my employer was Watergating, a very offensive term -- and some not so minor. This was done through gimmickry: offer a prize to individuals, groups or the whole plant. The group plan seemed to be the most effective -- more direct peer pressure -- for operating for a period of time without a lost-time WCB claim. The rewards varied: individual certificates of commendation, write- ups in the company's news media, free meals for the workers, and sometimes members of the families were included. Suitably crested jackets were very popular.
This discouraged, in many cases, the reporting of injuries. If the injury was serious enough that it couldn't be hidden, there was always light-duty work to fall back on. The light-duty work often provided the opportunity to get some much-needed training. While there was a cost to the employer, it would be more than offset with the NEER rebate received. While the NEER program is supposed to be revenue-neutral, it certainly isn't showing up that way in the board's financial statements.
What's in a name? I just want to relate a very brief item. I was representing a worker four or five years ago with a hearings officer. While I was waiting for my appeal, I was invited by the office of the worker adviser to sit as an observer on one of their appeals. It was a very emotional appeal. It was a rather elderly lady worker, but it was also a very small husband-and-wife business; the wife was there representing the business. There were many adjournments to calm emotions -- a very sensitive hearings officer, one of the most remarkable people I've met at the WCB. If tears will work for the worker, obviously the employer tried that route too. But the hearing officer pointed out to her at one point: "I'm here to be as fair and impartial and neutral as it's humanly possible to be, and that's my role, but I tell you, if it comes that I have to lean one way or the other, I'm leaning towards the worker. It's called the Workers' Compensation Act for a reason." Don't forget that. I always appreciated that.
Any improvement to improve prevention I'll believe when I see it, and I would love to be proved wrong on that point. I would love to see the accident rate legitimately go down, not through coverups, not through Watergating.
The word "insurance" doesn't impress me. Insurance against what? In my opinion, and you've heard it often today from presenters, it's another step along the way in the current government's drive to privatize everything possible. The late Eugene Forsey made this assessment of the word privatization: "Just a fancy name for the biggest international romp by the rich for skinning the poor."
A brief study of the United States system of compensation for industrial injuries doesn't encourage me to believe private sector coverage is the way to go. The public sector plan in Ontario, even with all its bungling bureaucrats, is far superior.
I go through a litany of grievances that I point out. I want to, at this time of the night -- it's late. We've had a long day and I'm a long way from home. You people are a long way from home too. I realize that.
But I want to again emphasize this book. Study it. This is what we need. We need to withdraw Bill 99. This isn't going to be easy. This is why I've included in the back -- I'm not a great admirer of insurance companies, but I think this person at the National Conference on Disability and Work probably did us a service: "Is it Time for 24-hour Disability Coverage?" This is an insurance company representative, and of course they would love to get in on providing the coverage. He points out some of the obstacles that I'm aware we face.
I was in New Zealand in 1993 on a vacation tour and did over 100 interviews on the streets of New Zealand. They have a universal no-fault plan for injuries only. I heard lots of criticism, but I heard far more praise. They don't want to abolish it, as I point out in my letter to Cam Jackson. They want to improve on it and include sickness.
Anyway, let's close on a lighter note, about this writer of a short, light article a few years ago who noted how times change, or do they? He hurled us into the future to the year 5981. He was writing in a church journal and noted some major changes in our Christian faith. There was a light discussion of the form of one church government in particular. However, nothing could be proven about its past due to the great computer breakdown in the year 3406 AD. He noted: "By that year all historical knowledge was obliterated. Since books had long ago become extinct, events prior to 3406 AD became a matter of conjecture."
He observed that the post office department still had problems delivering the mail. A look in on the House of Commons showed that the constitutional debate continued. A speaker was on his feet earnestly imploring the House not to take precipitous action. He warns of the divisive character of such a move and asks: "Why not try just once more to get unanimous agreement from the premiers? After all, having waited this long, surely we can wait just a little longer." How times change. Actually, not very much, with the conclusion of this bit of light reading.
If we continue on the road proposed by the Minister of Labour in Bill 99, we could very well in the year 5891 AD find the Legislative Assembly of Ontario still debating workers' compensation reform. On the other hand, if we made a serious effort at putting into legislative form the proposals put forth by Terrence G. Ison, I'm certain that common sense would prevail throughout the land and we would have a system to care for all the injured, disabled and diseased in a humane and caring way, and the subject, along with the $10-billion deficit, could be laid to rest long before the year 5891.
At that point, I conclude my formal remarks. I'm trusting you to read all this other stuff in here.
The Chair: There's just enough time remaining for questioning from one caucus, so it will be the turn of the government caucus at this point for questions.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much. I appreciate your coming forward and taking the time to make your presentation.
Your comments on the NEER program: I did some consultations on the Occupational Health and Safety Act. I've actually heard from some people on the labour side who have said that this in many cases has helped the employer to realize the importance of health and safety, that it can mean a great deal to an employer's bottom line, and that it had them pay more attention to health and safety. If you didn't have that kind of incentive, would you not fear that some of those employers who have really turned their attention to and tried to improve health and safety in workplaces because of that program may lose that incentive?
Mr Craik: I'm having just a bit of a problem following you. I'm not picking it up well in my hearing aid. You're saying it was critical for the program --
Mr Maves: Yes, NEER. I've heard some support from both the labour and the employer side about that, because some unions tell me it has made their employer pay attention to the fact that if they have improved health and safety, it can also improve their bottom line. So if you didn't have the NEER, you might lose that incentive. I wondered if you had considered that.
Mr Craik: I'm having a problem with the question. I spent 42 years in the workforce. They were more interested, I think, in covering up. I was asked, "Can you come into work?" -- I couldn't do my normal work -- because this was the second injury of that nature in the last month and the compensation board might ask questions. I didn't bring it with me, but out of a law book in my employer's office -- actually, the last five years I spent as a foreman. You see, the worker is injured, he's on modified duty; he's located in the nurse's station to see that he gets his meals. That's where I get the term "Watergate" from.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Craik. That was an interesting presentation. We thank you for joining us for the whole day and for spending the time to put this together.
Mr Craik: Keep this book in mind and here you have the blueprint.
Mr Gravelle: I'd just like to thank Mr Craik and the others who have travelled from afar to be at the hearings today. It's unfortunate that we couldn't have travelled more in northwestern Ontario. Thunder Bay is the only stop. Mr Craik has come 500 kilometres; others have come from Dryden and so on. Obviously it would have been better if we had been able to go to those communities, but I think the government members should recognize that they travelled long distances to get here, and should acknowledge that. I'm glad Mr Craik was able to get on the list today.
The Chair: Thank you. I think we all appreciate it.
FMB LABOUR ADJUSTMENT SERVICES
The Chair: Our next presenter is a representative from FMB Labour Adjustment Services, Francis Bell. Welcome. Please make yourself comfortable.
Mr Francis Bell: Thank you, Madam Chair. As you said, my name is Francis Bell. Folks, I'm back.
I want to start off by first saying to you, I'm willing to put my credentials on the table. Are you? I have 21 years' experience being an advocate. I have been in this system as an injured worker since 1981. If you want to know about pain and disability, come and talk to me.
This is a back brace; it's a support. I've damaged my lower back. This is a neck brace. Why do I wear it? Does it look nice? No. I wear it because I have a neck injury. This is a knee brace, $1,000. Why is it used? Because I thought it would be nice one day to try to tear my knee apart; at least that's what my employer said. The reality is that I've had five operations on my knee alone. The reality is, ladies and gentlemen, that you do not understand what workers' compensation is all about.
More important, I asked my wife to come with me today. She said to me: "No way. I'm not coming because I'd have to really get upset with these people." She was afraid that if you thought Moses Sheppard was vulgar, wait until you heard her. She had to sell her personal jewellery so we could survive, because the Workers' Compensation Board thought Francis Bell was ready to return to work.
If it wasn't for my doctor taking the extraordinary methods he used in getting me to Winnipeg and getting an MRI, the board still would have thought I could return to work. What you don't know is that the MRI showed exactly what the CAT scan showed and more. In fact, it was such a good MRI that the technicians wouldn't let me off the table until they had two orthopaedic surgeons come in and consult about whether it was safe to move me or not. But the Workers' Compensation Board said I was ready to return as a miner.
I come from an industry where killing and maiming is the name of the game. If you kill one and a half people a year, it's okay. In fact, the chairman from the company side of our joint health and safety committee said, "When we plan our accidents, we plan to kill somebody every year." By the way, that employer has kept up that reputation. They say that's okay. After hearing that, I wonder whether you're ready to really hear something.
The first thing, before I even open up the brief, I want to say this to you: I would suggest that you go and call on the occupational health clinic or go to someplace that deals with airborne substances, because for some reason, when all you people get into Queen's Park, something happens to your brains. You've left common sense out and you've left reality out.
Bill 99 and Mrs Witmer know about as much about compensation, about what happens to workers, as Ayatollah Khomaini does. They don't have the faintest idea. I challenge each and every one of you in this committee, including the opposition members, to come and meet with injured workers, not in this nice, fancy forum where you're all protected, but come and meet with real people. Talk about selling jewellery, talk about losing your house, talk about your family getting destroyed. Come and talk to us about real-life things. This is what the current act does, and Bill 99 just helps move it along.
The Workers' Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act are separate. Workers' compensation is about paying compensation to workers; health and safety is about prevention. Why can't you and your minister understand that? What are you trying to do? Are you trying to merge two things together? Are you trying to do Mr Mulroney's favourite thing? I understand one of you actually had the mispleasure of working for that gentleman. Are you trying to water the wine down to make it palatable for everybody? The only thing you're watering down is injured workers' rights.
I want to talk to you about some stuff that was said a bit earlier today and about benefit levels, to start off with. What are benefit levels? Benefit levels are what you pay injured workers. I want to tell you that when I worked in the mine, not only did I exceed your cap amount, but I also had a fringe benefit package that was second to none. Why do I know that? Because I, as the local union president, negotiated it. I know what that benefit package had.
As most of you saw, I was around here most of today. I left this afternoon to take my seven-year-old daughter to the hospital. Back seven years ago, when I worked for my last mining employer, the one that wanted to kill one a year because they thought it was okay to do, the doctor said, "We have to get her some prescriptions." Those prescriptions cost myself and my family over $100 today. Those prescriptions seven years ago wouldn't have cost me a penny. Think about that. That's the extra cost that you guys don't take into consideration.
By the way, when I asked the bank to reconsider my bank loan and mortgage on my house, the guy said, "Why?" I said, "The government says that I only get 90% of my net average earnings up to a specified pay rate, up to a cap, so why don't you just do that same type of ratio on my bank loan?" He looked at me and asked what type of medication I was on. He thought it was absolutely insane.
But you stand here today and say, "Not only is 90% not good enough; we want to mark it down to 85%." I want to challenge each one of you, go with an injured worker to their bank manager and ask them to reduce their bank loan by the same percentage that you've reduced their income. Go with a widow who's getting 40% and get the bank manager to do that. While you're getting tossed out of his office, maybe you'll start to understand the realities. You people do not understand the realities that face us.
There were some questions a bit earlier about return to work, about employers needing incentives. I'll tell you a real good incentive. You take away the rebates, toss them out. But what you say to the employer is, "If you don't re-employ or that injured worker doesn't get back to work, you're on the hook for the costs." Guess what? That's an incentive to the employer.
We had the hospitality association earlier today. I wasn't going to talk about it, but I'm just so worked up that I have to. One of the first cases I did that involved the reinstatement officer was about a hospitality place that said, "We know the worker was injured on the job. We know that he's a dishwasher, but it's cheaper for us to pay the penalty and not re-employ him than to get on the hook, because we think we can shut down the VR." That's the hospitality association. That's reality. Come out of the fog. Come back into reality.
An act is about theory. The problem has been that since 1985, and actually before that, there have been some major amendments. The major amendments haven't worked because they were theory. It's like the engineer saying to you, "I can span a river that's 400 miles wide, but I don't think I need supports." When it all falls in you say, "I wonder what happened." Every time a government has attempted to modify, to change the Workers' Compensation Act, all you've done is compounded one problem upon another.
Take this bill, walk over to the garbage bin and drop it in. Then do what Cam Jackson started to do, and really what the royal commission did: Come and meet with injured workers. The royal commission at least had the guts to meet one evening with over 100 injured workers. They had five minutes to tell them what the problem was and what the solution was. The commissioners walked out and said: "We didn't think it would work, but what an experience. We've learned something." The problem that you all have is you don't want to do that because you don't want to get close to these injured workers because we're all kind of funny, gimpy and whatever. But the problem has been that you haven't fixed it, and this one won't fix it.
I blame all three parties here. Some of the people around this table know me personally and know where I stand politically. But you didn't listen to injured workers. We're the experts. Come and talk to my wife and my kids and let them tell you what it's like when dad can't reach down and pick up something, when dad's gone grocery shopping with them and the next thing they have to do is find a place to sit dad down because out go his legs and his back, and they sit there for an hour and a half wondering if dad's going to get up or we're going to have to call the ambulance in a public place. That's reality. That's not what happens in Queen's Park. The people who drafted this bill obviously didn't talk to injured workers.
I want to talk to you about future economic loss in this new process, where you think you're going to fix the deeming problem by having it reviewed every year. The problem is, deeming is still there. Whether it's "deeming" or "capacity to earn," folks, it's the same thing. It's crystal-balling. You know what the good thing about crystal-balling is? You can say, "It was a guess, so therefore if I'm wrong, it's okay." The problem is, I can't go to the bank or a loan place and say, "I'm crystal-balling that my income's going to $100,000 next year," because they want real, live facts.
When you talk about operating it like a business, you don't operate this organization like a business, and you don't operate like a business because if you operated like a business you'd listen to your customers. Your customers are the injured workers. That's what this system is all about. Remember, it's called the Workers' Compensation Act; it's not called the Employers' Compensation Act. I know you want to change it to the workplace health and safety act, but again I would ask you to remember that there's an Occupational Health and Safety Act. You want to make health and safety changes, that's where you make them. Consult with the experts. The experts are the workers, not a bunch of people sitting in back rooms who are trying to massage something to make their egos grow. You're not doing workers any good, and in reality you're not doing employers any good.
The KGB services you saw earlier this morning, you think that's fake? You think that's not reality? Call KPMG; they offered major cities in this province their services for compensation management at $250 per hour. Think about that. Do you pay injured workers $250 per hour in benefits? Uh-uh. Why not? Because they'd get too rich. But you're willing to pay that firm to go and do a study of the compensation board and then turn around and offer their services to the people who they just studied all about. You want to talk about a conflict of interest? This government has the biggest conflict by allowing that to occur.
I'll tell you, if it was before Bill 15, I could excuse you. I could say, "It's an arm's-length thing." But in Bill 15, your minister decided that she wanted to have her hand in the cookie jar. When your hand is in the cookie jar, guess what? When something goes wrong, your fingers get slapped. That's what I'm here to do. This bill deserves to have all your fingers slapped. This bill, Bill 99, an act to rescind the Workers' Compensation Act, is not good for anybody. Is this bill well thought out? No, it's not. I could drive a Mack truck through it, and I don't know how to drive a Mack truck.
Labour market re-entry: Let's go and get some private contractors. Why do we want private contractors? Because they can get extra billing out of this. Our friends can make some more money. Is it going to do any good for injured workers? Uh-uh: 78% unemployment rate, folks. Why is your unfunded liability where it is? It's because the accident employers won't re-employ people: re-employ, people employed. Guess what? There's less expenses. Pretty simple, isn't it? Why doesn't the bill do something about it? Because we don't want to really touch it, because it might be too hard for us. That's what's going on here.
I want to take you to something that you probably don't want to hear because it comes out of the mouth of your colleague: 60% of people are hurt returning to work. Don't sit there and shrug. Think about it: 60%. Don't cover up; talk about it. Sixty per cent of people are pushed back. Do you know anybody in this room that happened to? I do: me. The person who said, "He can go back to work," is sitting in this room and the person who put my family 14 months down the road before we got a cheque from the board is sitting in the room. I was having to be prepared to go to WCAT, and you want to get rid of an independent tribunal.
I'll tell you what, folks. You get rid of that independence in that tribunal and you'd better be prepared, as MPPs, to have your riding known, to have yourselves known. If you think Mike got a pretty rough ride in Toronto when they demonstrated outside his house, think about what it's going to be like when you walk everywhere and there'll be injured workers tailing you. Think about what happens when you take away an independent tribunal. Even the employers told you, "Stop, put on the brakes, hold up, because we don't want to end up in court, because we'll sue the pants off you. We'll sue you, we'll be successful. The widows in BC showed us the way."
You say, "Where does he get his expertise?" Twenty-one years advocating and that's my expertise. Where is yours?
Madam Chair, for the last thing I want to take you to a special page and I want to read this letter into the proceedings. If you think I come with a jaded opinion, read the letter on page 8 of 18. It's addressed to an injured worker. It has his address and his postal code and I've changed that so that you can't identify it and the compensation people can't go back and say, "Hey, we'd better call the employer and let them know this was done."
"Our records indicate that you have been off work (and in receipt of WCB benefits) or (on LTD/WI) from last day worked to present.
"In light of your lengthy absence, we would ask that you contact the writer and advise what your present condition is and whether you intend to attempt a return to work, with or without accommodation. Additionally, we would appreciate receiving a letter from your physician outlining your diagnosis, prognosis for recovery and when he or she expects that you will be fit to return to work, with or without accommodation.
"Your comments and those of your physician regarding any limitation on your physical abilities, as well as your comments and those of your physician regarding any form(s) of accommodation that may make the performance of these duties possible would be greatly appreciated.
"Finally, we ask that you advise us whether you are in receipt of long-term disability and of workers' compensation benefits, and if so, the specific type of benefits you are collecting.
"We require this information to update our files and to determine your employment status, in view of your lengthy absence. Accordingly, we will take the position that you have resigned your employment.
"If you have any questions_please_contact the undersigned" -- signed by the company nurse.
Now, folks, flip over to the next page. The company nurse was involved in an attempt to persuade WCAT, the independent tribunal, that they were entitled to contact the injured worker's doctor. She had been and remains in constant contact with the injured worker's adjudicator and vocational rehabilitation case worker. In fact, she signed off on the VR plan. The company representative knew that the injured worker was in the middle of his retraining program and had previously insisted that this worker return to work a total of 10 times, and guess what? His disability got worse and worse.
Does this sound like Bill 99? Does it sound like this could happen again? This employer says, "I'll get around the comp act by doing it as the company nurse." She's also the compensation specialist. She knew why he was in school and knew what he was doing and knew his physical condition. Really WCAT wouldn't let them have access to his personal doctor and so they were going to try and do it through the back door.
Am I jaded? You're right, I'm jaded. Those are the reasons why. You people have to wake up, get into some fresh air, walk outside here in Thunder Bay and get your minds cleared of the garbage you've been told sitting in backroom offices.
This Bill 99 does not help injured workers. It furthers maiming them, it furthers destroying what they have. You should be ashamed of yourselves, sitting here today and saying this is a good bill. You should take this bill back and go to the minister and say: "Oops, I think we've made a mistake. Let's stop the process and reconsider."
Thank you for your time and for listening to me. I look forward to seeing you having the ability to stand up and stop this maiming now.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Bell, for your presentation. Unfortunately there is no time for questions.
The Chair: The time has expired. We're moving now to the next presenter.
ONTARIO CHIROPRACTIC ASSOCIATION
The Chair: The next person to present is a representative from the Ontario Chiropractic Association, Dr McCallum. Welcome.
Dr William McCallum: I hear that the committee in Toronto will not be presenting now, so they said I really have to do a good presentation up in Thunder Bay. I hope I can get my points across for them.
I'm Dr McCallum. I graduated from CMCC in Toronto 17 years ago, in 1980. I've been in practice now in Thunder Bay for the last 17 years. I'm probably one of two of the most recent members on the board of the Ontario Chiropractic Association. This is my first real official presentation that I'm giving, so bear with me here. I'm just going to read what I've got to present.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. The Thunder Bay and District Chiropractic Society is one of the regional societies of the Ontario Chiropractic Association. The OCA represents approximately 1,750 chiropractors out of the 1,900 in Ontario and is a provincial division of the Canadian Chiropractic Association.
Injured workers are entitled to a choice of medical or chiropractic care. In this submission the society would like to address the following health care aspects of Bill 99 and the workers' compensation system:
The fundamental shift in the management of patients with back pain and other strain/sprain injuries from rest to manipulation and early activity;
Independent expert opinion in Ontario that chiropractors should be given a greater role in the workers' compensation system as equal partners with physicians in areas of policy, patient management and claims management;
The way this is supported by the new inclusive language found in part IV, "Health Care," and part V, "Return to Work," in Bill 99. The society supports and congratulates the government on this;
The need for change to one comparatively minor but important area that still discriminates unfairly against use of non-physicians: section 47 dealing with health care assessments for the purposes of NEL, non-economic loss awards.
A fundamental shift in management. The single largest area of claims, costs and disability for the Ontario workers' compensation system is back strain/sprain injuries. All experts and professions now agree that effective prevention and management of such injuries requires a multifactorial approach comprising: (a) ergonomic design of the workplace; (b) employee education on all aspects of back pain; (c) evidence-based, effective health care services when there is injury; and (d) early return-to-work plans including job modification.
The last five years have seen a fundamental and radical change in area (c), the effective management of patients with back pain injuries.
In summary it is now agreed that management must be based on a bio-psychosocial approach, acknowledging that there are aspects of physical, psychological and social -- job satisfaction, life satisfaction, levels of compensation available etc -- to be addressed.
Management must also be based on the now-available scientific evidence on which treatment is best in terms of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and patient satisfaction. New national government-sponsored, multidisciplinary guidelines in the US and the UK, which have been endorsed by the Institute for Work and Health in Ontario, say the same thing: The key approach is manipulation and/or simple over-the-counter medication, together with early return to daily activities and exercise. There must be avoidance of rest, medication and passive physical therapy modalities which prolong disability.
The Manga report, which I think most of you probably have heard of, has been out for a few years now. The current management approach represents a swing from the traditional medical model to the traditional chiropractic model. In Ontario this has been independently confirmed by the Manga report titled The Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Chiropractic Management of Low Back Pain, which was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health. In 1993 health economists led by professor Pran Manga, director, masters in health administration program, University of Ottawa, made the following findings and recommendation:
"(F4) There is an overwhelming body of evidence indicating that chiropractic management of low back pain is more cost-effective than medical management. We reviewed numerous studies that range from very persuasive to convincing in support of this conclusion. The lack of any convincing argument or evidence to the contrary must be noted and is significant to us in forming our conclusions and recommendations. The evidence includes studies showing lower chiropractic costs for the same diagnosis and episodic need for care.
"(F5) There would be highly significant cost savings if more management of LBP," low back pain, "was transferred from physicians to chiropractors. Evidence from Canada and other countries suggests potential savings of many hundreds of millions annually. The literature clearly and consistently shows that the major savings from chiropractic management come from fewer and lower costs of auxiliary services, much fewer hospitalizations, and a highly significant reduction in chronic problems and levels and duration of disability. Workers' compensation studies report that injured workers with the same specific diagnosis of LBP returned to work much sooner when treated by chiropractors than by physicians. This leads to very significant reductions in direct and indirect costs.
"(R7) Since low back pain is of such significant concern to workers' compensation, chiropractors should be engaged at a senior level by Workers' Compensation Board to assess policy, procedures and treatment of workers with back injuries. This should be on an interdisciplinary basis with other professional, technical and managerial staff so that there is early development of more constructive relationships between chiropractors, physicians, physiotherapists and board staff and consultants. A very good case can be made for making chiropractors the gatekeepers for management of low back pain in the workers' compensation system in Ontario."
The full terms of reference and executive summary from the Manga report are attached as appendix A. I won't go through that now but it's there for your perusal.
Part IV, "Health Care," and part V, "Return to Work": Bill 99, following a trend started in a previous Workers' Compensation Amendment Act, responds to current realities by using inclusive language. Former references to "medical care," "medical examinations" and "physicians" are replaced by "health care," "health examinations" and "health professionals." This provides the legislative basis for a level playing field, the improved care of injured workers and cost efficiencies indicated in the Manga report.
NEL awards, sections 46 and 47: These provide for the assessment of permanent impairment for the purposes of non-economic-loss awards. The society recommends that section 47 be amended as in appendix B. If you'll turn to that for a second, that should be just at the back of your handout.
"(1) If a worker suffers permanent impairment as a result of the injury, the board shall determine the degree of his or her permanent impairment expressed as a percentage of total permanent impairment.
"(2) The determination must be made in accordance with the prescribed rating schedule (or, if the schedule does not provide for the impairment, the prescribed criteria) and,
"(a) having regard to health assessments" -- as opposed to "medical" assessments; we've made the change there -- "if any, conducted under this section; and
"(b) having regard to the health information about the worker on file with the board.
"(3) If the worker has a permanent impairment and if the worker is unable to attend a health assessment" -- again "health" instead of "medical" assessment -- "for health reasons, the board may determine the degree of the worker's permanent impairment solely from the health information about the worker on file with the board.
"(4) The board may require a worker to undergo a health assessment" -- again "health" as opposed to "medical" assessment -- "after he or she reaches maximum medical recovery.
"Selection of health professional" -- as opposed to "physician"
"(5) The worker shall select a health professional from a roster maintained by the board to perform the assessment. If the worker does not make the selection within 30 days after the board gives the worker a copy of the roster, the board shall select the health professional" -- as opposed to "the physician."
"(6) The health professional who is selected to perform the assessment shall examine the worker and assess the extent of his or her permanent impairment. When performing the assessment, the health professional shall consider any reports by the worker's treating health professional.
"(7) The health professional shall promptly give the board a report on the assessment.
"(8) The board shall give a copy of the report to the worker and to the employer who employed him or her on the date of the injury.
"Request to reassess
"(9) The board may request a health professional to perform a second assessment of the worker if the board considers the initial assessment or the report on it to be incomplete or inaccurate."
I think the last point is payment for health assessments.
"(13) The board shall pay the health professional for performing the health assessment and providing the report and shall fix the amount to be paid to him or her."
We feel those would be appropriate in lieu of the change in terminology present in the rest of the bill.
As presently drafted, section 47 only allows assessments by physicians. The amended section authorizes assessments by health professionals. They must be from "a roster maintained by the board" -- subsection (5) -- and the board remains in control of who is appointed to the roster. With this amendment, however, the board is empowered to appoint appropriate health professionals other than physicians.
Reasons. These include:
(1) The board has had difficulty recruiting and training a sufficient number of physicians to do this work, especially for musculoskeletal impairments.
(2) Such assessments fall within the scope of practice of chiropractic under the Chiropractic Act and the Regulated Health Professions Act, and similar assessments are routinely performed under the auto insurance and general law.
(3) Inclusive language here is consistent with the general legislative approach found in Bill 99.
(4) Broadening section 47 to empower the board to request assessments from all qualified health professionals can only assist the timely and cost-effective function of the NEL award process.
On behalf of the Thunder Bay and District Chiropractic Society and the Ontario Chiropractic Association, I thank you and would be pleased to answer any questions.
The Chair: We have about three minutes per caucus for questions and we begin with the NDP caucus.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Doctor, for your presentation. I won't use the full three minutes that we have.
I must say, and I hope you'll take it the right way, it sure sounds like round 4,000 of the battle between the physicians and the chiropractors in terms of turf.
Dr McCallum: Yes, it's a turf war. That's what Manga said, actually, when he was up here presenting. He said, "You can call it what you want, but it's a turf war, really."
Mr Christopherson: One quick specific question and then my leader would like to ask you one: On page 1, under (3), you say there should be a major focus -- my words -- on "ergonomic design of the workplace." I wonder if there's anything in Bill 99 that leads you to believe that employers will be encouraged, let alone forced, to provide a more ergonomically safe workplace.
Dr McCallum: I'm not aware of that. I haven't read Bill 99 from start to finish. The stuff I wanted to comment on was really what we talked about. I'm not sure how you would put that in. It's almost up to the employer to be concerned with that.
Mr Christopherson: The reason I ask is that the government claims they're doing so much for prevention and you as a health care expert have said that ergonomic design would make it a safer workplace. So I wondered if you saw anything in Bill 99 -- I don't -- that would --
Dr McCallum: I'm not sure. My colleagues in Toronto may be able to answer that more.
Mr Hampton: Could I ask you what percentage of your practice deals with injured workers?
Dr McCallum: Probably about 10%.
Mr Hampton: Can you break down what occupations the workers you see come from, where they work? Do you have a general sense of that based upon the history?
Dr McCallum: It's probably changed over the last few years.
Mr Hampton: Changed from what to what?
Dr McCallum: I think when I initially started I was seeing more -- in Thunder Bay we've got the elevators, we've got the fellows working in the bush, the mills. It's a very blue-collar town, so there were a lot of actual accidents that occurred. Now we're seeing more repetitive strain injures, ladies working at the terminal all day long developing neck or arm problems, that kind of thing. It is shifting. I don't know what percentage it would be in my own practice because it varies. You're going to flow through different ones.
Mr Hampton: One of the things Bill 99 is going to do is effectively put repetitive strain injuries outside the ambit of workers' compensation.
Dr McCallum: I know.
Mr Hampton: What --
Dr McCallum: My feeling as a chiropractor, what I feel about that?
Mr Hampton: Is there any logic to that?
Dr McCallum: Even with the injuries we see with the fellows working in the bush, to me what happens in your spine is a process, it's all those lifts, it's all those things you've done over the course of the years in your line of work. Often workers' compensation wants to see them fall over a tree trunk or they want to see them fall out of the loader or something like that, but a lot of times it's that last little slip or something that develops the acute back pain. That has been developing over many years, right?
As chiropractors we've tried to explain that to workers' compensation over the years. It was getting better. They started to understand that yes, this guy didn't exactly go out and lift anything 200 pounds, but because of sitting in a loader or a skidder and flipping back and forth all day long, jumping off and pulling on chains, he has developed some chronic back pain related to his work. They were covering that. I'm not even sure, as a member of the OCA, if I'm supposed to comment on that; this is my own personal opinion. I think it is a step backwards.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you very much, Dr McCallum, for your presentation. As has been said before, there has been a struggle between all groups in all professions about the roles, and the nurse practitioners may have a role in the new WCB as well, so you'll have more competition, I guess.
In part V I was impressed. In much of the research I have been exposed to is substantiated, not just in the Manga report but also in your own observations, the early return to work. Having worked in an industrial workplace for over 30 years, I think that section, the early return to work, is a critical point, where modified work and other kinds of mediation must be -- what's your feeling on that? Is it your sincere individual belief that this whole attitude of work and early return is a very important part of recovery?
Dr McCallum: I think so. My feeling is that people who stay off work too long often have more trouble getting back to work.
Mr O'Toole: Yes. Other problems emerge, perhaps.
Dr McCallum: That's right. You get the psychological and social problems.
Mr O'Toole: It's not to criticize injured workers or to suggest for one moment that they caused it or did it; that's not the point.
Dr McCallum: No. It's just a process that occurs.
Mr O'Toole: The point is that part of the recovery is the whole process of being with your peers and a lot of other things, without trying to be a doctor here.
The repetitive strain injury, that has not been removed, as Mr Hampton suggested. The entitlements in that section are not removed. There's a closer examination and a review of those medical things. It is a more regular review. You yourself would see some injuries with age, some recover better, some don't; rehabilitation perhaps hasn't always worked. But I want to set the record straight.
There's one other point too. You are probably involved in this, I would guess. On return-to-work plans that exist today under the current bill, do you often provide or have any knowledge of providing the employer with work-related medical restrictions, sort of medical records?
Dr McCallum: Most of the main employers, like the big mills, will have their own forms that they send out, requesting us to tick off exactly what the limitations should be.
Mr O'Toole: Do you see the changes in this bill here as onerous or as somehow leaking private information unrelated to the return-to-work plan? I believe the medical information that would be related would be related to the injury and what the employer or workplace should be aware of to rehabilitate that employee back on to a job. That's an appropriate, thoughtful, scientific way of making sure there's not a repeat of injury and that modifications are made to the workplace where there are ergonomic considerations.
Dr McCallum: There should be some kind of correspondence between the treating physician or the chiropractor --
Mr O'Toole: That goes on today, does it not?
Dr McCallum: It only makes sense.
Mr O'Toole: Absolutely. So that's not a big change, although quite often we're led to believe that as members of this committee. I worked with it for 15 years, and for everyone who came back from a compensable injury I had the restrictions: "unable to lift over 30 pounds" -- I had it already.
I appreciate your presentation. You're quite thoughtful about it and you're right. With the nature and mechanics of work today, do you think some of the changes in the review process and the return to work are progressive steps?
Dr McCallum: I hope they will be. I think if the chiropractors can get more involved -- I use the analogy of having an accident with your car and going to a body specialist. Say you were driving down the road and you had something out of alignment and you went to the body specialist and he looked at it; he may not see anything wrong. We hear this all the time. The patient has been to a physician, he comes back and the physician didn't feel there was anything wrong with the patient. If you go to the guy across the street who is the alignment specialist, he's going to find out that there may be something wrong with the way your tires are lined up or whatever.
Mr O'Toole: You don't have to convince me. I go to a chiropractor regularly.
Dr McCallum: Great.
Mr Patten: Doctor, are you a medical doctor as well?
Dr McCallum: No.
Mr Patten: You're not. Okay. I share your view generally, the chiropractors' knowledge of manipulation and back pain, especially lower back, and I think you have something to offer. I suggest it will probably be a multi-tiered level of politicking that will be going on regarding the suggestion that chiropractors be the gatekeepers for the management of low back pain at this particular stage. However, if that did come to pass, and I would be supportive, by the way, of having chiropractors play a greater role because I believe they have an important role to play, that it's distinctively specialized training, what is your view related to other health care practitioners rather than medical workers, such as homeopaths or acupuncturists as well?
Dr McCallum: As far as what? Including them as --
Mr Patten: As part of the big menu of people who have something to offer, with various people at different stages, and it's not all solely contingent upon medical practitioners.
Dr McCallum: I think there's validity to a lot of different types of therapy. I don't want to condemn or not -- I know that the AHCPR guidelines in the States -- are you aware of that study? There were 11 different orthopaedic surgeons and a number of different top professionals who made recommendations to the US government. That's part of what we've said today is based on. They found that there was very little evidence for any kind of help from anything except the manipulative care and some non-steroidal anti-inflammatories; that's about it. If you want to include those, you have to look at what the research is showing as being effective so far, right?
The Chair: Dr McCallum, that concludes our questions. You are our last presenter today. It was a most interesting presentation. Thank you for taking the time.
Dr McCallum: Thank you. Enjoy the evening in Thunder Bay. It's hot out there.
The Chair: With that, the committee will adjourn. We'll reconvene on Monday morning.
The committee adjourned at 1758.